1. The Night of the Hunter (dir. Charles Laughton, 1955) – Robert Mitchum plays one of the most complex villains of classic cinema in this movie; a beautifully shot ode to the resilience of children. The Night of the Hunter creates nail-biting suspense that will surprise you if you usually think “classic film” is boring. And Lillian Gish is a badass here.
2. The Manchurian Candidate (dir. John Frankenheimer, 1962) – This film could be a surprise to many people my generation and younger who have little experience seeing Frank Sinatra’s acting or a fantastically malicious Angela Lansbury. This story about the aftereffects of POWs upon returning home is riveting. Watch this version, and you’ll see there was little need for a remake.
3. The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols, 1967) – This is probably the most popular movie on this list in terms of mainstream appeal, especially among young adults. The primary element in this Mike Nichols film is quite resonant today; a college grad with absolutely no plan for the future. The Graduate helped usher in the New American Cinema, and has been (and always will be) considered a quintessential “cool” film, and has been wildly influential in addition to having one of the most memorable soundtracks, provided by Simon & Garfunkel.
4. Some Like it Hot (dir. Billy Wilder, 1959) – Although I am not the biggest Marilyn Monroe fan, I don’t think anyone can deny the power of her on-screen presence. In addition to that, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis make this one of the silliest, but most enjoyable comedies that most people with contemporary tastes would appreciate.
5. The Women (dir. George Cukor, 1939) – I assume much of the appeal of reality television shows are the cattiness among women, scandal, drama, and the thrill of experiencing it all without having to personally be involved. You can find all of that in The Women, but it also contains razor sharp dialogue brilliantly performed by a fabulous cast of actresses, and with much greater flair than anything you’ll see on television today.
6. It Happened One Night (dir. Frank Capra, 1934) - Many people enjoy a good Romantic Comedy. It Happened One Night sets the standard for this genre. While most RomComs are instantly discarded as low-brow entertainment made with little intelligence, this film is a joy to watch. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, along with the genius of Frank Capra, show us that RomComs with screwball elements can still be great films.
7. The Best Years of Our Lives (dir. William Wyler, 1946) – This film always makes me feel totally indebted to anyone who is in the armed forces; not just for risking their lives in battle, but for having to deal with the changes war creates in them. Wyler’s classic touches upon the trauma that veterans (and their families) face when they come home to a place where no one truly understands the terrors of war.
8. Modern Times (dir. Charlie Chaplin, 1936) – Although this film incorporates sound effects, this is Charlie Chaplin’s last film without spoken dialogue. This film is laden with symbolism as Chaplin uses its images to consider man’s experience dealing with technological advances, which remarkably only becomes more pertinent with time. But also, this movie is just incredibly funny.
9. The Naked City (dir. Jules Dassin, 1948) – This is the movie for anyone who enjoys New York in film. The gritty backdrop is incorporated as a character in this murder mystery. It’s like watching a documentary on late 1940s New York City. My favorite part is the inclusion of each borough. Most NYC movies tend to forget the outer boroughs, but The Naked City takes the viewer through the complete concrete jungle.
10. Paris Blues (dir. Martin Ritt, 1961) – Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman play two jazz musicians who live in Paris to escape America’s lack of praise for varied music and races. There are some great scenes of a budding beat generation, and this movie has entertaining performances in Parisian speakeasies and jazz clubs.
All of these are available either on Netflix instant/DVD, and Paris Blues is even streaming in its entirety on YouTube. Try them out and tell me your thoughts! Happy watching ;)