Presenting the fourth part (11 – 20) of the five part article series highlighting the 50 best films that Hollywood has produced over the last hundred years or so.
20. The Wild Bunch (1969)
This Sam Peckinpah classic is in many ways an anti-Western that exits in complete opposition to what the Old West stood for. The themes of chivalry and machismo that drove the classic Westerns are replaced by primal instincts of survival. Peckinpah seems to take a leaf out of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns to portray a lurid canvas hitherto unseen in an American Western. The movie features some great performances from the likes of William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, and Robert Ryan as well as one of the bloodiest climaxes ever filmed in cinema.
Watch the epic scene here
19. On the Waterfront (1954)
This Elia Kazan classic starring Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint, and Karl Malden remains one of the most influential films of all time. It presents the story of an ex-prize fighter’s struggle against the corruption in the mob-connected dockers union while working as a longshoreman. Brando’s heart-wrenching portrayal earned him his first Academy Award. Brando’s character Terry Malloy’s heartbreaking line “I coulda been a contender” remains one of the most famous movie quotes of all time.
Watch the iconic scene here
18. Ace in the Hole (1951)
This Billy Wilder classic starring the movie god Kirk Douglas, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 103, remains as relevant today as it was about seven decades ago. Opportunistic journalism remains as rotten as depicted by the visionary Austrian-born American filmmaker Billy Wilder in his hard-hitting masterpiece. The movie in black & white as well as Douglas’ brutal portrayal of an unscrupulous journalist looks remarkably fresh even today. Along with Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), Ace in the Hole remains the greatest satire on manipulative journalistic practices. But it is the seminal nature of Ace in the Hole that makes it a first among equals.
17. Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull is undoubtedly the greatest sports biography ever made. But is is not just a movie about boxing. It is a treatise in masculine jealousy and insecurity. It is about a man’s rise and fall. It is also about success and failure and what an obsession can do to a man. Robert De Niro delivers yet another masterful performance (here he essays Jake LaMotta) to follow up his mesmerizing performance in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. And this time he gets the Academy’s nod. Raging Bull is not an easy film to watch and there are moments that can really disturb you and shake you up. The movie is perhaps shot in black and white so that you don’t see the red color of the blood but you can certainly feel the pain. Watch it only if you have a strong heart. And make sure you don’t miss the scene when a washed-up LaMotta poignantly recites Brando’s aforementioned “I coulda been a contender” monologue from On the Waterfront.
Watch the poignant scene here
16. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Adapting the controversial Nikos Kazantzakis novel of the same name is probable the most daring thing Martin Scorsese has done in his legendary filmmaking career. Also, it wouldn’t be a hyperbole to call The Last Temptation of Christ the single greatest achievement of Scorsese’s career. Here is a film that dares to depict Christ as an ordinary human being and shows his struggle with various forms of temptations such as fear, doubt and lust. The very thought can be revolting if you are a Christian and Scorsese is a devout Catholic. Scorsese clearly dares to keep his art ahead of his faith and succeeds in delivering a rare cinematic masterpiece featuring a breathtaking performance from Willem Dafoe. The Last Temptation of Christ is not an easy film to watch but patience does have its rewards.
15. The Conversation (1974)
Francis Ford Coppola has made many masterpieces including The Godfather films but The Conversation remains his most perfect film at many fronts. The film deals with the theme of alienation like no other film has ever managed to achieve. At the centre of the story is a surveillance expert Harry Caul (masterfully played by Gene Hackman) who is so committed to his profession that he practically has no social life. He is one paranoid individual who prefers to live in seclusion. The Conversation is not only a powerful character study but is also one of the greatest mystery thrillers ever made. Coppola was inspired by Antonioni’s Palme d’Or-winning film Blow Up and wanted to make a film around the idea of perception versus reality. The Conversation was Coppola’s answer and coincidentally it also won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 1974 Cannes International Film Festival.
14. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Once Upon a Time in America was master Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone’s dream project that was butchered by the American Studio bosses. Leone even gave away the opportunity to direct The Godfather in order to realize his dream project. In its original form, as desired by Leone, Once Upon a Time in America is an undisputed masterpiece. Here is a crime drama that captures the spirit of Americana perhaps even better than The Godfather films. Not only is the story more realistic and relatable but it is also more humane and yet it has the operatic quality that is lacking in most other films of its ilk, including The Godfather. The film features a rare low-key performance from Robert De Niro that has been described by some as the very best performance of his illustrious career. The film also features a breathtaking performance from James Woods. Embrace the film if you haven’t already. You will certainly not be disappointed. The 229 minute cut is what is recommended for the first viewing. For subsequent viewings, you can surely check out the 251 min extended director’s cut which can really prove to be a bit overwhelming for a first time viewer.
13. Barry Lyndon (1975)
Based on a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, Barry Lyndon is a film that belongs to the highest echelons of cinema. Kubrick had an eye for spotting literary works which had the potential to be made into formidable films. This is arguably the greatest period drama films ever made. Barry Lyndon serves as a master class on set lighting, cinematography, and cinematic storytelling. Ever frame of the film is like a Renaissance painting.Kubrick deliberately keeps his characters at a distance as he doesn’t want the viewers to feel empathy for his characters. And the narration serves as a conduit, like a wand in the hands of the wizard who uses it to unleash his immaculate design. None of the characters are likable and this only adds to the above effect. Only Kubrick could have achieved it with such aplomb. Not a moment goes by when he is not in command. The great American film critic Roger Ebert sums it up perfectly: “The film has the arrogance of genius. Never mind its budget or the perfectionism in its 300-day shooting schedule. How many directors would have had Kubrick’s confidence in taking this ultimately inconsequential story of a man’s rise and fall, and realizing it in a style that dictates our attitude toward it? We don’t simply see Kubrick’s movie, we see it in the frame of mind he insists on — unless we’re so closed to the notion of directorial styles that the whole thing just seems like a beautiful extravagance (which it is). There is no other way to see Barry than the way Kubrick sees him.”
12. Chinatown (1974)
A superlative neo-noir mystery film that deservedly finds a place on this list is Roman Polanski’s seminal work Chinatown starring Jack Nicholson in the unforgettable role of as a private eye. The film is frequently acknowledged as one of most influential films ever made. The gripping suspense that’s at the heart of the Chinatown is what makes it singularly great. The film features a deeply nuanced performance from Faye Dunaway. With its themes of love, lust, betrayal, and incest, Chinatown is a hard-hitting classic that will stay with you forever.
11. Touch of Evil (1958)
Touch of Evil was the last film Orson Welles made in Hollywood. For, it was a colossal disaster. It was also one of the last film noirs. The film stars Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Welles himself in the pivotal roles. The Universal Studios had cut it against Welles’ wishes and the result was not too pleasing. In 1998, the legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch re-edited the film based on the Welles memo, using the available material to create a restoration that’s closest to Welles’s vision. The film has grown in stature over the years and is now regarded as one of the best film noirs of all time. The movie’s opening five-minute-long tracking shot (without the opening credits just as Welles had intended) not only remains the greatest tracking shot ever but also happens to be one of the greatest movie openings in cinema.
Watch the breathtaking opening sequence here
Tell us what you think of our Top 50 list. Please do leave your thoughts in the comments section below.