dir. Michael Curtiz
Casablanca is perhaps the height of studio-era filmmaking. It is much more a collaborative film then an auteur’s masterpiece, but it maintains a singularity of tone and style that is unmistakable. The Epstein brothers gave this cast some of the strongest and snappiest dialogue that American cinema has ever seen. Humphrey Bogart oozes cool, but still beautifully portrays the pain behind Rick’s devil-may-care façade. Ingrid Bergman gives the performance of her career as the conflicted Ilsa. In a wonderful twist of irony, a film about patriotism takes place in a setting where no one is really at home. Casablanca is an in between place, where no one can really ever have a solid footing. Both a gripping war intrigue and a dramatic love story, Casablanca is a timeless classic.
dir. George Lucas
The movie that changed sci-fi forever, and one of the first “blockbusters” to hit the big screen. Star Wars excels on so many levels. It appropriates classical mythology to create an epic journey, predicated on a battle between good and evil. It gave us a different kind of sci-fi setting, that looked old and lived in, rather than shiny and futuristic. It wowed audiences with special effects unlike any they’d ever seen. George Lucas and his team of artists created a wealth of iconic imagery, from Star Destroyers, to lightsabers, to droids, to Darth Vader. It’s a story that’s big enough for exploding planets, but small enough for a young man struggling over his destiny. Star Wars is one of the classic stories of the twentieth century, and will surely gain fans for decades to come.
dir. Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is almost more of a thought than a story. Whispered narration weaves in and out of glimpses of one man’s childhood. All of these disparate moments swirl around a central theme – the contrast between grace and law, symbolized in the main character’s memory by his mother and father, respectively. The film dares to ask life’s biggest questions, all through the simple lens of a young boy. The film is ever moving, ever searching, and consistently humbled by any answers it seems to find. Malick’s fluid direction and Emmanuel Lubezki’s entrancing cinematography make this one of the first masterpieces of the new millennium.
dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola’s mafia opus is so effective because of the way it draws us into Michael’s descent to the dark side. As the film begins, we understand how he wants to distance himself from the family “business.” But slowly, gradually, we want in just as much as he does. Emotions are heightened, lines are blurred, and suddenly there’s no reliable moral compass. Michael is no longer concerned about what’s right and wrong, but about what he has to do. This fractured moral tale is told with haunting cinematography and explosive performances from many of the greatest American actors of the ‘70s. Suspenseful, emotional, and propulsive, The Godfather is the mob movie to end all mob movies.