Best Movies for Men – Part 2

Action-packed, funny, inspiring, exceptional classics that should be in every man’s media library

This is a continuation of my list of the top 25 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.

Let me know what you think or find me on Google+.

For Best Movies for Men – Part 1, go here

cinderella man

Cinderella Man (2005)

blue_star-5 5 Stars – Inspirational Drama – starring Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti; director Ron Howard – Universal Pictures, Miramax Films, Imagine Entertainment 

Director Ron Howard likes to capture some of the greatness of America’s past, as well as the greatness of individuals. He did that in Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, and he does it again with this film. This is a true story about boxing great James Braddock, who held the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion title from 1935 to 1937. He achieved that after suffering a setback in his career due to hand injuries, as well as struggling to feed his family during the Depression. But he made a comeback, partly due to his own faith, courage and integrity; partly due to his manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti); and, if we are to believe Howard and his screenwriters, partly due to the support of his wife (Renee Zellweger).

The bout for the Championship in 1935 was against Max Baer, who was known for killing one previous fighter, and suspected of a second. Howard paints Baer as arrogant and cold-hearted, yet, on the surface, a good-natured showman. The last part of that is correct – he was a showman. But the first part is not. He is believed to have shown true remorse over the deaths of the two boxer he had fought earlier. Regardless, Craig Bierko, who plays Baer, almost steals the show. He’s terrific. Braddock’s win over Baer was one of the greatest upsets in boxing history, for which he received the appellation “Cinderella Man,” coined by writer Damon Runyon. Just an interesting side note: Max Baer’s son, Max Baer, Jr., played Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Cinderella Man contains some of the finest boxing scenes ever shot – they’re astonishing. But the most memorable scene in the movie happens outside the ring: it’s when Braddock, who had struggled for two years to feed his family during the Depression, now returns to the welfare office and hands the clerk a wad of cash to pay back the money he has received. That’s the kind of man he was. For years after that, he continued to help those less fortunate than himself. These are the kinds of heroes and the kinds of films we need, and I’m thankful to Ron Howard, his crew and his actors, as well as the writers and producers, for bringing us this.

Most memorable line:

James Braddock: This time around I know what I’m fighting for.

Reporter: What’s that, Jimmy?

James Braddock: Milk.

Joe Louis would always call Jim Braddock the most courageous man he ever fought.

“In all the history of the boxing game you find no human interest story to compare with the life narrative of James J. Braddock…” – Damon Runyon

Rated PG-13

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gladiator

Gladiator (2000)

blue_star-5 5 Stars – Action Drama – starring Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix; director Ridley Scott – DreamWorks SKG, Universal Pictures

This is probably the second most popular men’s film with the non-Godfather crowd, after Braveheart. It made Russell Crowe a star and won five Oscars, including Best Picture as well as Best Actor for Crowe. It was nominated for twelve awards total. Like Braveheart, it was recognized with many other awards, including Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Score by Hans Zimmer.

This isn’t the first film about the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and a rogue general that tries to bring down the Empire. The Fall Of The Roman Empire (1964) is about the same time period and same imperial family, but with a different general as the protagonist. I don’t know why the two stories are so different, since they start in the same place – a “good” emperor who doesn’t trust his son to take over the empire, and so grooms his favorite general for the position – but end in such different ways. In both stories, the emperor’s daughter is in love with the general and tries to help him: in Gladiator, Maximus stays true to his Spanish wife, in spite of Lucilla’s advances; but in Fall, Livius, the general (played by Stephen Boyd), is openly involved with Lucilla (played by Sophia Loren).

As far as the endings, in The Fall Of The Roman Empire, Livius and Lucilla die together, burned at the stake for treason, while the empire is falling all around them. Gladiator, on the other hand, ends on a hopeful note, as if the empire is going to continue. It’s a strange ending, given the history; but Ridley Scott has never been known to let history or facts stop him from telling a good story. The Empire did end shortly after this, though not in the dramatic way shown in Fall.

The focus of Gladiator is not on history, as also evidenced by the dark, over-the-top reproduction of Rome. Rome is a Mediterranean city; but in Gladiator, it looks Germanic, and the army looks almost Nazi. These are liberties that I consider interesting but distracting. But that’s Ridley Scott. No, the real focus of Gladiator is on eternity – Elysium, as Romans referred to Heaven – and the difference one individual can make when that is his focus. This is an important message.

Most memorable line: “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” – Maximus

Rated R for violence

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saving private ryan tom hanks

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

blue_star-5 5 Stars – War Action – starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore and Edward Burns; director Steven Spielberg – DreamWorks SKG, Paramount Pictures, Amblin Entertainment

Besides Band Of Brother (2001), which is the definitive war series, there is no other modern movie about World War 2 worth talking about more than Saving Private Ryan. This movie inspired Band, of which both Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are executive producers, Spielberg having produced and directed this one as well. It’s about the same group of guys, broadly speaking: the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division – paratroopers that were trained harder than any other outfit leading up to the war.

If you want realism, both Band and Saving deliver this in spades. For example, the horror of war: in Saving Private Ryan, during the Normandy landing, as the men are coming off the boats, they’re being shot down in the water before they can reach the beach. Much of this was photographed underwater, which adds to the confusion and tension. But then there’s the comradery of the men, which is also a big theme in Band: the horrors of war bring the guys together in a way that nothing else could. And the bellyaching: a big part of Saving: these guys do not want to go on this mission, and they complain about it all the way.

The mission: a patrol of soldiers, led by Captain Miller (Hanks), which has made it through the Normandy landing and D-Day, is now being sent behind enemy lines to find and rescue a paratrooper whose mother has lost all her sons but him. After the loss of “the fighting Sullivans” – five brothers in the Navy, all of whom died on the same ship when it went down in the Pacific in 1942 – it became military policy not to station members of the same family together. But this goes a step further, actually trying to save the life of the last son of a family. It’s an odd mission, but one that actually took place.

You couldn’t ask for a better cast. Besides Tom Hanks as Captain Miller, you have Matt Damon as Private Ryan; Tom Sizemore as Sergeant Horvath; Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg and Vin Diesel as privates; Ted Danson as Captain Hamill; Paul Giamatti as Sergeant Hill; etc. The film got nominated for eleven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Hanks), Best Score (John Williams), Best Art and Best Makeup; and it won Best Director (Spielberg), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn), Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing. Even The Longest Day, with its star-studded cast, incredible cinematography and special effects, couldn’t touch this.

Most memorable line:

“Earn this.” – Captain Miller to Private Ryan

“Dear Madam: I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. Yours very sincerely and respectfully, Abraham Lincoln.”

Rated R for violence and language.

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fugitive movie harrison ford

The Fugitive (1993)

blue_star-5 5 Stars – Suspense Thriller – starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones; director Andrew Davis – Warner Bros.

This is a suspense thriller based on the television series (1963-67), starring David Janson, about Dr. Richard Kimble, who is wrongly convicted of killing his wife, but escapes in one of the most spectacular train crashes in the history of film. On the run, Kimble (Harrison Ford) is following clues to try to find his wife’s real killer. Meanwhile, a tenacious US Deputy Marshal, Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), is on his trail. This is one of the best cat-and-mouse thrillers of all time.

Ford and Jones are at the top of their game and make terrific antagonists, on the level of Jean Valjean and Javert from Les Miserables. Ford contributes to the tension by playing things straight and being “determined yet desperate,” which he learned playing Indiana Jones. Tommy Lee Jones, on the other hand, lightens things up, even though he is a matter-of-fact lawman, by having a dry sense of humor. Jones took the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance.

Andrew Davis was a cinematographer before he became a director, and his only two notable films, in my opinion, are this one and Holes (2003). Unbelievably, The Fugitive was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography, but only won the one for Jones. While this is an excellent film, suspense thrillers don’t usually get that many nominations. Hitchcock’s certainly never did. So that says something.

Most memorable line:

Dr. Richard Kimble (Holding Gerard at gunpoint): I didn’t kill my wife!

Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard: I don’t care!

Rated PG-13

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kenneth branagh henry v

Henry V (1989)

blue_star-6 5-Star Masterpiece – Romantic Drama – starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi and Brian Blessed; direction and adaptation for the screen, Kenneth Branagh, his first film – Renaissance Films, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Samuel Goldwin Company

This is one of Shakespeare’s finest histories about the Christian English King, his legal claim to France as an English territory, his war to fulfill that claim and his miraculous Battle of Agincourt in France. And this film is the finest production of that play ever mounted on stage or screen. There is a fine filmed version by Laurence Olivier from 1946, but it is not nearly as exciting.

Kenneth Branagh was basically a child prodigy when he made this film: it is his first time directing, first time writing, and first time to carry the lead acting role in a production for the big screen. He had done some television work: most notably Fortunes Of War with Emma Thompson (his wife at the time), which is a wonderful TV mini-series. But to undertake so ambitious a project at the youthful age of 29, and to pull it off, was phenomenal.

Most people were amazed when this film came out. Branagh looks like a child, but plays the role of Henry V like a pro. Every decision he makes as writer-director is spot-on. The results are delightful, exceptional, inspirational. Even though the film did win some awards, most eluded him. He got three nominations at the Oscars, but only his costume designer took home an award; and six nominations at the British Oscars (BAFTA), but won Best Direction. Still, most critics consider this to be one of the finest – if not the finest – filmed version of a Shakespeare play ever done. It is well worth watching.

Most memorable line:

“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by from this day until the ending of the world but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother, be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks, that fought with us upon St. Crispin’s day!” – King Henry V

Rated PG-13 for mild violence

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die hard bruce willis

Die Hard (1988)

blue_star-5 5 Stars – Cop Action – starring Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia and Alan Rickman; director John McTiernan – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Gordon Company, Silver Pictures

Of all the fun and funny over-the-top cop movies – Lethal Weapon included – this is the best. John McClane (Bruce Willis), a New York City cop who’s in LA to visit his career wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), suddenly finds himself in the position of having to rescue her and her fellow workers, who have been taken captive at their office Christmas party by a group of German terrorists. McClane shows himself equal to the task, as, one by one, he takes the group down. His wise cracking along the way makes the film, including his radio gibes with the leader of the terrorists, Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman.

This is the film that made Willis a star. All the Die Hard movies – and there have been five to date – include a lot of things being blown up, which is fun; but it is really McClane’s die hard attitude, his wise cracking, and his ability to connect with a temporary “partner” in each film that have made the series so strong. Of the other Die Hard movies, Die Hard 2 (1990) and Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995) are good, but pretty much a rehash of the first, with different bad guys. Number four, Live Free Or Die Hard (2007), recaptures some of the magic of the original and is absolutely over-the-top. Number five, A Good Day To Die Hard (2013) was a flop, ending the series for all practical purposes.

This film was actually nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Film Editing, but took none home.

Most memorable line:

Hans Gruber (on the radio): Mr. Mystery Guest? Are you still there?

John McClane: Yeah, I’m still here. Unless you wanna open the front door for me.

Hans Gruber: Uh, no, I’m afraid not. But, you have me at a loss. You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?

John McClane: Was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually. I really like those sequined shirts.

Hans Gruber: Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?

John McClane: Yippee-ki-yay, m—–f—–.

Rated R for violence, very brief nudity and language.

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natural robert redford

The Natural (1984)

blue_star-5 5 Stars – Inspirational Adventure – starring Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Wilford Brimley, Kim Bassinger and Glenn Close; director Barry Levinson – TriStar Pictures, Delphi II Productions

There aren’t many sports fantasy movies, although I think the idea works well, especially with baseball, which holds a type of mystical fascination for Americans. Based on the 1952 novel by Bernard Malamud, The Natural is a metaphorical baseball story about good and evil in the life of an over-the-hill, come-back player named Roy Hobbs. Early in his career, Hobbs gets mixed up with a bad woman, who shoots him and then commits suicide. The injury sidelines his career in the minors until he is “rediscovered” later in life by a scout for a losing major league team, the New York Knights.

One of the two owners is determined to drive the team into the ground so he can buy his partner out and then turn the team around; but Hobbs throws a wrench in the works by turning the team around prematurely. He does it with raw talent, faith and a bat called “Wonder Boy.” There’s something magical about that bat, which he carved out of the trunk of a tree struck by lightning when he was a boy. There’s also something “magical” about Hobbs himself: when he’s connected with a good woman, he plays well; but when he’s involved with a bad one, his game goes to pot.

Because of Hobbs, the Knights are in the run for the pennant. But he’s torn between two women: a good one, Iris, played by Glen Close; and a bad one, Memo, played by Kim Basinger. Will he figure things out in time, or will he, once again, allow a bad woman to ruin his life and career, not to mention Pop’s and the rest of the team’s? It’s a great metaphor about making the right choices and self-sacrifice.

This film is full of atmosphere and characters, including Max Mercy, a cartoonist-reporter, played by Robert Duvall; Pop Fisher, one of the owners, and the team’s manager, played by Wiford Brimley; and Joe Don Baker as Babe Ruth, although they call him The Whammer – but everyone knows who he’s supposed to be. This is true Americana, and a great metaphor on American ideals. It had four Academy Award nominations but no wins. Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam and Rain Man) directs.

Most memorable line:

Iris Gaines: You know, I believe we have two lives.

Roy Hobbs: How… what do you mean?

Iris Gaines: The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.

Rated PG

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right stuff sam shepard

The Right Stuff (1983)

blue_star-5 5 Stars – Comedy Drama – starring Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn and Ed Harris; direction and adaptation for the screen, Philip Kaufman, based on Tom Wolfe’s book – The Ladd Company

This is one of the quirkiest, yet most interesting, movies ever made. It’s based on Tom Wolfe’s 1980 book about the Mercury Space Program that first put Americans into space. But the story begins with Chuck Yeager and the test pilots that were risking everything to fly faster than sound and beyond following World War 2. It starts out at one of their testing sites in the dessert, follows them through the competition to be chosen to be part of the program, and ends up at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The pilots that are chosen to make up the Mercury Seven team in 1959 are a divergent mix: from rowdy showboats, like Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid) and Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn); to super nice guys, like John Glen (Ed Harris) and Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank); to something of a weirdo in Gus Grissom (Fred Ward). Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen) and Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin) fill out the group, but have almost non-speaking roles.

The wives of the astronauts play almost as important part as the men in the telling of this story. Chuck Yeager’s wife, Glennis (Barbara Hershey) is sexy and fun. Grissom’s wife, Betty (Veronica Cartwright), is crestfallen when her chances of meeting Jackie Kennedy are dashed by her husband’s mishaps. Mary Jo Deschanel brings some additional pathos to the film by playing a mute Annie Glenn, who is badgered by the press yet gallantly defended by her husband. In addition to some of the wives, Donald Moffat as Lyndon B. Johnson is a hoot.

This film was adapted from the book and directed by Philip Kaufman, who also contributed to Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. It was nominated for eight Oscars and won four: Film Editing, Score, Sound and Sound Effects Editing. It lost for Best Picture, Cinematography, Art Direction and Supporting Actor (Sam Shepherd). The significance of the Mercury Seven is that they are the only men to go into space as part of all four space programs: Mercury (one-man), Gemini (two-man), Apollo (Moon) and Space Shuttle. The significance of Tom Wolfe’s book and this film is to show that there still are heroes alive today doing great things, even if they are quirky. 🙂

Most memorable line:

Narrator: The Mercury program was over. Four years later, astronaut Gus Grissom was killed, along with astronauts White and Chaffee, when fire swept through their Apollo capsule. But on that glorious day in May 1963, Gordo Cooper went higher, farther, and faster than any other American – 22 complete orbits around the world; he was the last American ever to go into space alone. And for a brief moment, Gordo Cooper became the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen.

Rated PG

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cool hand luke paul newman

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

blue_star-5 5 Stars – Comedy-Drama – starring Paul Newman, George Kennedy and Strother Martin; director Stuart Rosenberg – Jalem Productions

Growing up, everyone told me my dad looked like Cool Hand Luke. He may have acted a bit like him as well. So, naturally, I was interested in him and his movies. Many were some of the finest ever made, including The Sting and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. But I think it was his Southern characters, like Ben Quick (The Long Hot Summer), Brick Pollitt (Cat On A Hot Tin Roof) and this one, Luke, that really sealed his reputation as a star. Like Steve McQueen, he was considered just plain cool in the 1960s.

Luke is a prisoner in a Southern prison camp for a minor infraction. But, because of his rebellious attitude, he digs himself into a deeper and deeper hole with the prison camp warden, Captain, played by Strother Martin, and his strongarm guard, Dragline, played by George Kennedy, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. The most memorable scene is when Luke is challenged to an egg eating contest, in which he eats fifty hard boiled eggs. Another is when the chain gang is out working, and a buxom, scantily clad woman decides to wash her car, driving the inmates near crazy. (The car washing scene and the prisoners’ reactions were shot on different days, so that the actors never actually saw the woman. That’s acting!)

Stuart Roserberg, the director, did a lot of TV series during the early ’60s, including The Naked City, The Defenders and The Cyrstler Theatre, but this was his first theatrical film. Besides Kennedy’s win, it was nominated for Oscars in Screenplay, Music and Best Actor (Newman). Both Newman and Kennedy won. Both Newman and Kennedy were also nominated for Golden Globes.

Most memorable line:

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” – Captain

Rated PG

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goldfinger artwork sean connery

Goldfinger (1964)

blue_star-5 5 Stars – Spy Thriller – starring Sean Connery; director Guy Hamilton; based on Ian Fleming’s novel – Eon Productions

I tend to like the earliest Bond movies best, simply because I love that early ’60s culture, and you can’t beat Sean Connery as James Bond. Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964) were the first. As far as how the movies parallel the books, there were actually four novels ahead of these. Why Albert Broccoli and co-producer Harry Saltzman decided to begin the series that far in is hard to say. But by the time they got to Goldfinger, they were on a roll, and many think this is the best of the early films.

The premise is, Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) wants to break into Fort Knox, but not to steal the gold: to explode a nuclear device so the gold will be radioactive for 58 years, making his own gold supply priceless. Helping him are Odd Job (Harold Sakata), who has a way of decapitating people and statues with his hat; some of the worst thugs in the country, all of whom sound like characters from a Damon Runyon story; and Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), the leader of an all-female flying circus. The film is filled with the usual Bond kitsch, such as the agent being strapped to a table with a laser about to divide him straight up the middle, beginning with his groin. When he asks Goldfinger if he expects him to talk, the mastermind answers, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” Simple enough. But Bond, being Bond, has a way of talking him out of it just before the laser breaks skin.

Guy Hamilton, who is one in a long line of Bond directors, does well enough to win one Oscar – Best Sound Effects. Unlike the present day Bond films starring Daniel Craig, these are not consider great cinema, but they are certainly entertaining, and, for their day, ground-breaking for subject matter, though little else. Nevertheless, like the novels by Ian Fleming, James Bond is standard pulp fare for men.

Most memorable line:

(When he’s introduced) “Bond, James Bond.” – James Bond

(When asked about his martini) “Shaken, not stirred.” – James Bond

(When asked why he carries a gun) “I have a slight inferiority complex.” – James Bond

Rated PG

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great escape steve mcqueen on motorcycle

The Great Escape (1963)

blue_star-5 5 Stars – War Action – starring Steve McQueen and James Garner; direction, John Sturges; screenplay, James Clavell, based on Paul Brickhill’s book – Mirisch Corporation

Of all the movies about World War 2, this one is probably the most fun, other than Stalag 17, and this one really happened. The characters are composites of real-life prisoners, but all the events happened pretty much as depicted. Even though the plan was to get 250 men out, and wreak havoc on the German military in the process, it is amazing that any of them were able to escape at all. At the beginning of the film, the Germans have rounded up all the airmen in all their prison camps who have proven to be incorrigible escape artists, and put them into one, high-tech prison camp that is supposed to be escape-proof. But they have no idea with whom they are dealing.

The plan is to tunnel out, so there are many problems that have to be solved, such as, where to hide the dirt from the tunnel, where to get enough timber to shore it up, where to get 250 sets of civilian clothes and 250 sets of credentials, how to dig without the Germans hearing, etc. How they solve these problems is ingenious and what makes this movie so interesting and entertaining. That, and how they make their way to freedom once they get out. The actors that fill the various American and British roles are a virtual who’s who of actors from the sixties: James Garner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Donald Pleasance, David McCallum, John Leyton, Gordon Jackson, plus others that you may recognize.

John Sturges (Bad Day At Black Rock, Gunfight At The O.K. Corral, The Magnificent Seven) did a superb job directing, even though the film won virtually no awards in its day; but today it is considered a classic that is enjoyed by both critics and audiences alike. I will warn you: this is shot in Panavision, so the screen is extremely letter-boxed, meaning it is very wide. Back in the ’60s, the gigantic theater screen would have wrapped around the audience, giving an early effect of 3D. On today’s flat screens, it may seem a bit strange to be so elongated. But it’s worth every minute. There is a reason McQueen was a top star, not the least of which were his attitude and his driving, which he did himself. You get plenty of both in this film.

Most memorable line:

Von Luger: Are all American officers so ill-mannered?

Hilts (McQueen): Yeah, about 99 percent.

Von Luger: Then perhaps while you are with us you will have a chance to learn some. Ten days isolation, Hilts.

Hilts: CAPTAIN Hilts.

Von Luger: Twenty days.

Hilts: Right. Oh, uh, you’ll still be here when I get out?

Von Luger (visibly annoyed): Cooler!

Not rated

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bridge on river kwai artwork

Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)

blue_star-5 5 Stars – War Action – starring William Holden, Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins; direction, David Lean; adaptation for the screen, Pierre Boulle, from his novel – Columbia Pictures Corporation, Horizon Pictures (II)

I’m not a big fan of David Lean’s “fat” films – Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965) being two. I think his earlier, “lean” ones – such as Brief Encounter (1945) and Summertime (1955) – as well as his classic adaptations – Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948) – are much better. But this film, Bridge On The River Kwai, stands almost in the middle. It has just enough of the intimacy of the smaller films to make one care about the characters; yet, the spectacle of the blockbusters to make one go “Wow.” That balance, plus incredible performances, are what make this film so good.

American Commander Shears (William Holden) is a jaded prisoner in a Japanese POW camp during World War 2 – but he escapes. (Being William Holden, what else could he do?) Recently captured British Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness) arrives in the camp with his men, and, when he finds out that he and his fellow officers are expected to help build a bridge on the River Kwai, announces that, according to the Geneva Convention, officers don’t do manual labor. Japanese commandant, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), is furious; so he punishes Nicholson by throwing him into the hot box. When the Colonel gets out, he’s more determined than ever. It doesn’t take long for Saito to realize that he’s no match for this strong-willed Brit. So he decides to let Nicholson and his officers take over supervision of the brige building project, which his own men have been bungling.

Meanwhile, Shears has reached safety and is enjoying the good life of an officer. But command, in the form of Major Warden (Jack Hawkins), wants him to make his way back to the prison camp and blow up the bridge. Are they crazy?! Not only will the mission be extremely dangerous, but Colonel Nicholson may have something to say about it, as he and his men are taking great pride in their accomplishment. Shears finds himself between a rock and a hard place, Warden being the rock and the Japanese, plus Nicholson, being the hard place.

This is an action-packed, top-notch production that was nominated for eight Oscars and won seven: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Alec Guinness), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Film Editing – all the most important ones. It also won three Golden Globes: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Guinness) – all for Drama.

Most memorable line:

“Do not speak to me of rules. This is war! This is not a game of cricket!” – Colonel Saito

Rated PG

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red river john wayne

Red River (1948)

blue_star-6 5-Star Masterpiece – Western Action – starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift; director Howard Hawks – Charles K. Feldman Group, Monterey Productions

Director Howard Hawks is known for a variety of genres: screwball comedies, such as Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940) and Ball Of Fire (1941); military actioners, such as Sergeant York (1941); and romantic thrillers, such as To Have And Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946). But toward the end of his career, he devoted himself to westerns; and, while John Ford has no seconds when it comes to directing westerns, Hawks did manage to strike two home runs: Rio Bravo (1959) and this film, Red River, both starring John Wayne.

In Red River, while on a cattle drive on the dangerous Chisholm Trail, Texas cattleman Tom Dunson (Wayne) locks horns with his adopted son, Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift), for dealing out his own brand of justice to three deserters. Matt basically commits mutiny, taking the herd away from Dunson and leaving him and his cook (Walter Brennan) behind. Dunson swears that he’ll catch up with Matt, and, when he does, kill him. Well, Dunson does catch up with his adopted son and the showdown that follows does not disappoint.

As in The Searchers, Wayne is a dark, brooding man. He gives his second best performance ever (The Searchers being his best); while this is the screen debut of Montgomery Clift, who would go on to become one of the icons of the 1950s, along with James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. This is one film that should be on every man’s must see list.

Most memorable line:

“There are only two things more beautiful than a good gun: a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good… Swiss watch?” – Cherry Valance (John Ireland)

B&W. Not rated.

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Waitsel Smith

Waitsel Smith, August 27, 2013

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Text © 2013 Waitsel Smith. Photos © Various Studios as Indicated. All Rights Reserved.

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