Conflict is essential to drama. The movies that move me deeply are those where the conflict grows out of what's at stake for the characters. This is true even in the case of 2001, where the most interesting character is a computer, and what's at risk is the next step in human evolution. This is my personal, idiosyncratic list of favorites, and it doesn't necessarily reflect the popular wisdom on drama movies. For the sake of focus, I've limited my choices to English-language talkies.
1. 'Citizen Kane' (1941)Citizen Kane
is an innovative, breathtakingly cinematic character study, and Orson Welles is unforgettable in the role of the wealthy, powerful newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane. A reporter researches Kane's life hoping to unlock the meaning of the tycoon's dying word "Rosebud." The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks as those who knew Kane share their memories of him. Welles' masterpiece is considered by manymyself includedto be the greatest movie ever made.
2. '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968)
In Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey,
a mysterious monolith is discovered on the moon, and a manned mission is dispatched to discover where it came from. But along the way, the spacecraft's supposedly infallible HAL 9000 computer goes through something akin to a nervous breakdown. To my mind, this science-fiction classic is visually stunning, brilliant, and enigmatic with an ending that is both baffling and sublime.
3. 'The Godfather' Collection
Both The Godfather
(1972) and The Godfather: Part II
(1974) are on my short list of greatest all-time films. I think The Godfather: Part III
(1990) is a good movie, but not in the same class as the first two. The trilogy is a showcase for the acting talents of Al Pacino, and who can forget Marlon Brando's towering performance in the first film? In these movies, Francis Ford Coppola gave us a memorable portrait of mob life, and I love the lines, "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
4. 'Vertigo' (1958)In Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) is hired to follow Madeleine (Kim Novak), an icy blonde. He falls in love with her, but she mysteriously dies. Later, Ferguson meets Judy (also played by Novak), who reminds him of Madeleine. Vertigo is unsettling, but I admire Hitchcock's exploration of a man's perverse compulsion to transform a woman into what he wants her to be.
5. 'The Searchers' (1956)I think John Ford's The Searchers is one of the best films ever made about racism and culture clash. Set in Texas around 1868 to 1873, the story is about what should be done when a white girl is abducted by Comanches. The girl's uncle, Ethan Edwards, a loner who hates Indians, is played by John Wayne in what I consider his finest performance. Ethan and a companion search for the captured girl for years. But when they find her, will Ethan bring her home or will he kill her?
6. 'Touch of Evil' (1958)Written and directed by Orson Welles, Touch of Evil is garish and pulpy, but I think that befits a film noir. This is a low-budget B-movie featuring stylish visuals, great dialogue, compelling characters, and a labyrinthine plot. The story revolves around a corrupt cop conducting a murder investigation in a sleazy city on the U.S.-Mexico border. The cast includes Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Dennis Weaver, and Marlene Dietrich.
7. 'Sunset Boulevard' (1950)
Told in flashback, this movie recounts the tale of down-on-his-luck hack screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden), who happens to knock on the door of the mansion of silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). For me, "Sunset Boulevard" is a strange and fascinating movie. I think Gloria Swanson creates one of the most memorable characters in film history. I love the dialogue in the movie, and it's hard to top the film's last line: "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."
8. 'On the Waterfront' (1954)On the Waterfront
won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director (Elia Kazan), and the acting in the movie is at such a high level that five actors (Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, and Lee J. Cobb) received Oscar nominations for their performances. I am always moved by the way this film tells a story of love and redemption set against the gritty backdrop of labor union corruption and violence.
9. 'Schindler's List' (1993)
In making Schindler's List
, master storyteller Steven Spielberg must have figured he could get away with showing mainstream audiences the grim details of the Holocaust if he embedded them in an inspiring story. As far as I am concerned, he succeeded brilliantly, and the movie won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film tells the tale of how 1100 Jews were saved through the efforts of Oskar Schindler. During the movie's epilogue, I always find myself choking back tears.
10. 'Gone With the Wind' (1939)
I find Gone With the Wind
to be a magnificent melodrama that is worth seeing just for its art direction, use of color, cinematography, and musical score. But Vivien Leigh creates a memorable character as the selfish, manipulative Scarlett O'Hara, and I love Clark Gable as the masculine Rhett Butler. The story is set in and around Atlanta during the Civil War and its aftermath, and even though Scarlett and Rhett aren't likable, they gain my grudging admiration because they are survivors.