These past few months, my idea of relaxation has been defined as grabbing a Diet Dr Pepper out of the fridge, turning off all the lights, and delving into a classic movie. I’m reintroducing myself to the film medium through the eyes of the best directors of generations passed: Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Orson Welles, and others. As an avid movie buff whose current taste lies in explosive action and superheroes, it’s always good to take a step back and remember how film was inspired in the first place.
Let’s take a look back at some of my favorite old-timers.
Rear Window (1954)
If Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly don’t knock you off your feet with just their existence in the same room, then adding the direction of Alfred Hitchcock to the mix is just a fail-safe. One of the most brilliant and influential directors in the history of film, Mr. Hitchcock creates a film where it’s almost unnoticed that there’s only one setting—an apartment belonging to an injured photographer. Across a quaint courtyard, he views the windows and lives of his neighbors while confined to his wheelchair. When one neighbor’s wife goes missing, the photographer (Stewart) and his female suitor (Kelly) begin a frenzied and escalating investigation into a warped murder mystery.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Without a doubt, this film will slam suspense deep into your bones. Orson Welles, who directs and stars in this masterpiece, undergoes a complete emotional transformation. We watch a young newspaper tycoon grow and develop, his life around him becoming warped with his choices and exceedingly apparent flaws. Welles manages to exude so much raw power in the role that it’s hard to believe it’s just a film. It helps to know a bit about William Randolph Hearst—a real life newspaper tycoon upon which Welles’ character is based—before viewing, but it’s not necessary.
Weird film, let’s just get that out there. This film is odd. I didn’t understand half of what was going on, but I loved it. It was hilarious, and the comedy was black and delicious. Peter Sellers plays three separate roles flawlessly (I didn’t know he was all three until after I watched it). The film documents a Cold War air strike ordered by one completely mad U.S. General, and the ensuing chaos as the U.S. government attempts to stop it. Dr. Strangelove doesn’t even enter the film until about half and hour in, but, believe me—it’s worth it.
An Affair to Remember (1957)
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a love story on this list, and a love story isn’t really a love story without Cary Grant. Ah, Cary Grant…
This beautiful film catalogs the voyage of a ship traveling from Europe to New York, and a woman (Deborah Kerr) and a man (Mr. Grant) who fall in love aboard that ship. Both are involved with other people at the time, but those people aren’t on the ship, so Mr. Grant and Ms. Kerr find themselves uninhibited in their slow-going and titillating seduction of one another. Upon reaching their destination, they decide to meet up in six months at the Empire State Building if they still love each other. If that doesn’t fill your belly with fuzzies, I don’t know what will.
The Godfather (1972)
Not that old, but brilliant enough to be counted among the classics. If you haven’t seen this film, you don’t love movies. Francis Ford Coppola is a camera genius. The film is three hours, and it’s not too long or too short. Every second means something and every bit of dialogue is some poetic reference to something else. Marlon Brando plays a surprisingly compassionate Italian mob boss in the midst of a mafia war. His sons Michael (Al Pacino), Sonny (James Caan), and Fredo (he’s a jerk, don’t worry about him) all deal with their father and situation in different ways.
The character development is probably the best I’ve seen in any film. There. I said it.