Thursday, April 17, 2014

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 14: 40-36

Rank: 40
Release Year: 1949
Genre: Mystery
Director: Carol Reed
Plot Summary: In the wake of an old friend’s (the black-market opportunist Harry Lime) death, pulp novelist Holly Martins comes to post-WWII Vienna to investigate the mysterious circumstances, only to discover things are not quite as they appear to be.
What Makes It Special: Postwar Vienna seems like the perfect setting for a film-noir. The city (like Berlin) was split among the allies, each managing and patrolling a different section of the city, leaving it ripe to be exploited by black-market dealers. Holly Martins makes a great fish-out-of-water character who is seemingly unwillingly pulled into the investigation of his friend’s mysterious death. Carol Reed’s direction and style is spot on, but one cannot help but feeling like Orson Welles also had a hand in the film’s creative process (and I personally think it is the best project Welles was involved with after Citizen Kane). It is a fantastic mystery film and a must for hardboiled detective fans.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 39
Release Year: 1959
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Plot Summary: New York advertising executive Roger Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, leading to a misadventure in which Thornhill desperately tries to survive (and even finds himself playing spy).
What Makes It Special: North by Northwest is in many ways a remake (a much more ambitious one at that) of The 39 Steps, but then again Alfred Hitchcock liked to reuse the same basic premises over and over. Here we have the premise of ‘the wrong man’ who by some cruel twist of fate finds himself unwillingly immersed in an international conspiracy. The film not only succeeds as a great mystery, as Thornhill tries to uncover the conspiracy, but also as a very entertaining action adventure film (one might even call it an early precursor to popcorn blockbusters) with fun action set pieces and very memorable and iconic locations and scenes.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 38
Title: Casablanca
Release Year: 1942
Genre: Romance Drama
Director: Michael Curtiz
Plot Summary: In the early days of WWII, Rick Blaine operates a small club in still unoccupied North Africa, but his life becomes very complicated when an old flame, Ilsa Lund, comes into town.
What Makes It Special: Casablanca is maybe cinema’s most iconic romance drama (along with Gone with the Wind). (And too like Gone with the Wind) it is often quoted (and misquoted) and much loved. But behind all the hype, Michael Curtiz has created a film about missed opportunities and heartbreak, something that speaks to audiences universally. The performances from Bogart and Bergman are also phenomenal; tapping into a brooding longing that is powerfully resonating. There is real chemistry between them; it is palpable.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 37
Title: Chinatown
Release Year: 1974
Genre: Mystery
Director: Roman Polanski
Plot Summary: Private detective J.J. Gittes is hired to expose an adulterer, but finds himself caught right in the middle of a larger conspiracy – one that involves deceit, corruption, and murder.
What Makes It Special: With Chinatown, Roman Polanski directs a hardboiled, film-noir style mystery that feels both classic and modern. Polanski (much like he did with Rosemary’s Baby) is also unafraid to give his film a very real edge. Gittes may be the protagonist, but he is not a hero and the Los Angeles he inhabits is certainly not a place of happy endings nor is it one where dreams come true. It is an ugly, messy world ruled by corruption, disorder, and power. It’s Chinatown.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

Rank: 36
Title: The General
Release Year: 1926
Genre: Action Comedy
Cast: Buster Keaton
Plot Summary: After Union spies steal a Confederate locomotive, engineer Johnnie Gray pursues them singlehandedly, straight through enemy lines.
What Makes It Special: Buster Keaton is silent cinema’s other great comedian (at least in the Hollywood Studio system), and The General is his great film. The set pieces are incredible and impressive even today. Keaton has such a talent for stunts, pratfalls, and physical comedy. This production seems almost unbelievably ambitious in the gags and comedy bits it employs. To say the least, The General is a silent era masterpiece.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

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