Presenting the second part (31 – 40) of the five part article series highlighting the 50 best films that Hollywood has produced over the last hundred years or so.
40. Scarface (1983)
Brian De Palma’s unforgiving portrayal of the American drug mafia of the 1980s, Scarface stars Al Pacino in the role of a Cuban refugee named Tony Montana. After the MPAA gave the highly censored third cut of the film an ‘X’ rating, a desperate De Palma brought in a panel of experts, including some narcotics officers who testified to the MPAA the accuracy of Scarface’s depiction of the conditions prevalent in the drug underworld. The MPAA finally budged and gave the cut an ‘R’ rating. But De Palma tricked them by releasing the unedited original version of the film instead. The rest is history. The film happens to be one of the most violent crime drama films ever made but its rather raw and realistic is what makes it standout. The film features a tour de force performance from Pacino. Vintage Pacino, the Macbeth-like climax is absolutely unforgettable.
39. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy [comprising The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)] is actually the three parts of the same story and so it is important that they be considered as one whole entity instead of three different films. Tolkien’s high fantasy novel is a masterwork of English literature and its adaptation was considered nigh impossible by some of the world’s leading filmmakers. A little known Kiwi filmmaker named Peter Jackson stood up. And he proved everybody wrong by finally delivering The Lord of the Rings films shot across 150 locations in New Zealand over a period of 438 days. The movie’s groundbreaking VFX and CGI marked a new chapter in the history of filmmaking, paving way for films like James Cameron’s Avatar. The three films together got nominated for a total of 30 Academy Awards, winning 17 of them.
38. 12 Angry Men (1957)
Try asking 100 movie-buffs about their most favorite court room drama and majority of them would say 12 Angry Men. The film revolves around 12 jurors who must come to a unanimous conclusion as to whether a boy accused of murdering his father is guilty or not. Such is the power of this Sidney Lumet classic, featuring a tour de force performance from the legendary Henry Fonda, that it remains as effective today as it was back then.
37. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is already a cinematic classic. Here is a Hollywood film made in the style of pulp novels. The film is effectively not one but three different stories merged into one in a hitherto never-seen-before fashion. The film won a Palme d’Or at Cannes and set the ball rolling for Tarantino. Over the years Tarantino has only grown in reputation but it all started with Pulp Fiction. Yes, Resorvoir Dogs was uber-cool but it was Pulp Fiction that establish him as a major filmmaker. It also remains a very important work of cinema in more ways than one can possibly imagine. Here is a rare film that makes gore and violence look really funny. The film features memorable performances from Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, and Bruce Willis.
36. A. I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
This Steven Spielberg Sci-Fi masterpiece was Stanley Kubrick’s dream project. After Kubrick’s untimely death, Spielberg, Kubrick’s long time friend and admirer, realized it. This film basically is basically a work of two auteurs and not one. And it is absolutely brilliant. Kubrick’s psychology and Spielberg’s showmanship blend seamlessly to give rise to a cinematic masterpiece that’s nothing like anything you would have ever seen. But the film is yet to get its due. However, over the last decade, it has slowly grown in stature. In his 2001 review, Roger Ebert had written of A.I. Artificial Intelligence: “It has mastered the artificial, but not the intelligence.” But, a decade later in 2011, he corrected his oversight by including it in his Great Movies collection.
35. Gone with the Wind (1939)
If we take inflation into account then Gone with the Wind, clocking at 3 hours and 58 minutes, would be the highest box-office grossing film of all time. Based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel of the same name, this Victor Fleming-directed film stars English actress Vivien Leigh in the iconic role of Scarlet O’Hara, a manipulative Southern belle for whom survival means more than dignity and pride. This is the tale of her unrequited love with a man named Ashley and her tempestuous affair with a blockade runner named Rhett Butler. Gone with the Wind is set in the backdrop of the American Civil War. The best Hollywood movies seldom get any better than this.
34. Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
An adaptation of a play of the same name, this masterpiece (one of the finest movie adaptations of a play ever) directed by Mike Nichols is about an old couple who pour their malice and frustration into the lives of a young couple that comes to dine with them. The film features breathtaking performances from Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
33. The Petrified Forest (1936)
This Archie Mayo-directed film is the first talkie in the list and it has all the elements that one often associated with the best Hollywood movies. It has a virtuous hero (played by Leslie Howard), an innocent and charming heroine (played by Bette Davis), and a ruthless villain (played by Humphrey Bogart). The film is based on a play of the same name by Robert E. Sherwood. This was Bogart’s breakthrough film which he got after doing a series of sidekick roles in B-movies. The studio, however, wanted a more bankable name and Bogart only got the role thanks to Leslie Howard’s intervention. Bogart had earlier portrayed the same part in the play in so Leslie insisted that should play it in the movie as well. Bogart felt so indebted that he named his son after Leslie as a token of gratitude.
32. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
This John Ford classic is a clash of two ideologies: the old and the new. While the character of John Wayne represents old school—all grit and machismo—James Stewart’s character represents the changing times—modern education and gender equality. The film is a juxtaposition of the old frontier West still living in its old days and another West that has started to embrace modernism. The film’s black & white cinematography is a major highlight. Remember, it was made in the year 1962 and so Ford could have chosen to make this film in color but he knew that black & white cinematography would suit the subject and the treatment better. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is often seen as Ford’s last and arguably his greatest masterpiece.
31. Night Moves (1975)
Arthur Penn’s Night Moves is arguably the greatest mystery thriller film of all time. It also has one of the greatest jaw dropping endings in all cinema. Made in the vein of classic film noir movies, Night Moves features a riveting performance from Gene Hackman. Hackman plays a private detective who gets caught in the middle of nowhere, not unlike Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. Penn made a bunch of great movies during his filmmaking career but none attains the perfection of Night Moves.
Tell us what you think of our Top 50 list. Please do leave your thoughts in the comments section below.