Category Archives: FILM

Book/Film: The Grapes of Wrath

The novel was published in 1939, and earned John Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. The movie followed the next year, and earned 7 Academy Award nominations. Uploaded by john mariani.com.

The Grapes of Wrath is the moving story of the Joad family, Okies forced from their farms due to the crop failures brought on by the Dust Bowl. Tom and the family make the pilgrimage to what they’ve been led to believe is the promised land — California. But when they arrive, they find that there are too many migrants, and too few jobs.

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Published in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath earned John Steinbeck (Great American Things,  October 24, 2009) the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1940. That’s the year the film version debuted, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. As often happens in adaptations, the movie had a slightly happier ending than the book. Part of that can be attributed to the natural inclination of film producers to want audiences to leave happy; part is likely due to the fact that Ford and executive producer Darryl F. Zanuck were more politically conservative than Steinbeck.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won two. The American Film Institute’s original “100 Years…100 Movies” named it the number 21 film of all time. As for the book, Modern Library honored it as the tenth-best novel of the 20th century.

Films: The Movies of 1939

 

The Wizard of Oz is universally regarded as one of the best movies of all time - yet you could argue that there were at least a half dozen better in 1939. Uploaded by jreynoldsart321.wordpress.com.

For unknown reasons, some years just happened to feature more great movies than others. From time to time, we’ll feature the films of a particularly outstanding year as a Great American Thing. We’re starting with 1939, which some consider the best year ever in movies. Once you look at the films released that year, you may find yourself in agreement. Some of the best, in alphabetical order:

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Beau Geste – Gary Cooper in the French Foreign Legion. With Ray Milland, Robert Preston, and Susan Hayward.

Destry Rides Again – A Western, directed by George Marshall and starring Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich.

Gone With the Wind – Winner of the Academy Award, from amongst all these films, for Best Picture. See Great American Things, April 28, 2009.

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Goodbye, Mr. Chips – A British film, directed by Sam Wood and starring Greer Garson and Robert Donat as Mr. Chips.

Gunga Din – Cary Grant fighting for the Empire in Colonial British India. With Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Joan Fontaine, and Sam Jaffee as the title character.

Hound of the Baskervilles – One of two films in 1939 (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was the other) pairing Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.

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Hunchback of Notre Dame – The best of many versions of this story. With Charles Laughton as Quasimodo and Maureen O’Hara as Esmerelda.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – One of Frank Capra’s common man rises to heroic status films, starring Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur. Nominated for eleven Academy Awards.

Ninotchka – Greta Garbo laughs! A great comedy, co-written by a young Billy Wilder and directed by Ernest Lubitsch.

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Of Mice and Men – The Steinbeck classic brought to life by William Wyler. Aaron Copland composed the score. Nominated for four Academy Awards.

Stagecoach – Another John Ford western, featuring Claire Trevor and starring John Wayne in his breakout role.

Wizard of Oz – Judy Garland takes us down the yellow brick road, and ultimately somewhere over the rainbow. Only a modest hit upon its release, you can understand why when you see its competition here. Won three Academy Awards.

Wuthering Heights – Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in the Emily Bronte classic. Earned eight Academy Award nominations.

Young Mr. Lincoln – Directed by John Ford, starring Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln.

Film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs featured a lot of firsts: first American full-length animated film, first in Technicolor, first to have a soundtrack recording, first to have merchandising. Uploaded by images2.fanpop.com.

Computer animation can be a marvelous thing, and studios such as Pixar have taken it to a new level of excellence. So it’s hard to imagine what a marvel Snow White was when it was released in 1937. It was the first American full-length animated feature, and the first ever produced by the master himself, Walt Disney (Great American Things, April 14, 2009). It’s the first to have a soundtrack released, and the first to have merchandising support.

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Also hard to believe today is that most of those closest to Walt Disney tried to talk him out of making the film, including his brother Roy and his wife. “No one’s going to pay a dime to see a dwarf picture,” she said.  Walt thought it would cost $250,000 to produce, and ended up as a then unheard of $1.5 million. Disney had to mortgage his home to get the picture finished. The industry called it “Walt Disney’s Folly.”

But audiences loved it. It became the highest-grossing film of all time, a distinction it held for one year (Gone With the Wind). The movie earned Disney an honorary Academy Award “as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field.” The American Film Institute has named it number 34 in its 100 Years…100 Movies series, and the number one animated film of all time.

Screenwriter: William Goldman

 

William Goldman wrote five novels before it ever occurred to him to write screenplays. But when he got started, he did it better than anyone. Uploaded by wga.org.

I have to acknowledge that William Goldman is one of my writing heroes. I found his novels, including Magic and Marathon Man, to be some of the most enjoyable reading I’d ever experienced. And that was before I realized that he was one of the most talented screenwriters in Hollywood history.

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Goldman had five novels published before he wrote his first screenplay. But since that time he’s written some of the best movies of the last half-century. I bet you’ve seen a bunch of them (* indicates adapted from his own novel):

Harper (1966) ——… Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969 – Academy Award) … The Stepford Wives (1975) … The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) … Marathon Man* (1976) … All the President’s Men (1976 – Academy Award) … A Bridge Too Far (1977) … Magic* (1978) … The Princess Bride* (1987) … Misery (1990) … Maverick (1994) … Absolute Power (1997)

In addition, he worked as a script doctor, helping get such movies as A Few Good Men and Last Action Hero into presentable shape. If you can find it, grab a copy of Goldman’s autobiography, Adventures in the Screen Trade. It’s one of the most famous (and honest) “Inside Hollywood” books ever written.

Film: All the President’s Men

 

The source book was dense and detailed. Screenwriter extraordinaire William Goldman distilled its essence, turning it into an engrossing thriller. Uploaded by john-likes-movies.blogspot.com.

Typically, when you’ve read a book and then see the movie adaptation of that book, the film leaves much to be desired. So much must be omitted. That’s one of the things that cause me to marvel at this movie – long after the book has faded, the Alan Pakula film is still fascinating to watch.

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One of the reasons is the screenwriter. William Goldman is one of the all-time masters of the art, and he realized what was important in the complicated Watergate saga, and what didn’t advance the story. Especially considering the large cast in this epic.

The main characters were excellent – Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein and Robert Redford as fellow Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. And what a supporting cast! Martin Balsam, Jason Robards, Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook, Jane Alexander, Meredith Baxter, Ned Beatty, Stephen Collins…

All the President’s Men received eight Academy Awards nominations, and won four (Sound, Art Direction, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor – Robards).

Film: The Natural

The New York Daily News and ESPN both named The Natural as the sixth-best sports movie of all time. Uploaded by robertedwardauctions.com.

Robert Redford was at his best as Roy Hobbs, the “natural” baseball player whose career was changed forever by an encounter with a deranged fan. Years go by, and Hobbs finally gets a second chance at the big leagues.

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The movie is told almost as myth, with supernatural elements in many scenes. As a boy, Hobbs carved a bat from a branch of a tree split by lightning. He carves a lightning bolt into it, and calls it “Wonderboy.” There’s a wonderful scene in which Hobbs, as a pitcher, strikes out “The Whammer,” an obvious doppelganger for Babe Ruth. And the final scene is over the top as a badly hurt Hobbs hits a home run to win the pennant as lightning flashes in the sky.

The Natural was directed by Barry Levinson, a director who was hot in the 1980s (Diner, Tin Men, Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam).  It had an excellent cast, featuring Glenn Close (Academy Award nomination), Barbara Hershey, Wilford Brimley, Robert Duvall (Great American Things, August 21, 2009), and Darren McGavin.

Both the New York Daily News and ESPN named The Natural as the number 6 sports movie of all time.

Film: Rear Window

Jimmy Stewart was laid up in his apartment with a broken leg. He had nothing to do but stare at his neighbors across the courtyard - one of whom may have murdered his wife. Uploaded by cdn.mos.totalfilm.com.

Alfred Hitchcock was at his very best during the period of time in which he made Rear Window. In a six-year period, he also made Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho. Has any director ever had a run like that?

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Rear Window featured Jimmy Stewart (Great American Things, April 8, 2009) as a photographer, confined to his New York City apartment with a broken leg. He looks out at his neighbors across the courtyard, and becomes convinced that one of them (Raymond Burr) has murdered his wife. He enlists the help of his girlfriend, played by the incredibly beautiful Grace Kelly (Great American Things, August 30, 2009).and nurse (Thelma Ritter) to solve the mystery, and ends up putting all their lives in jeopardy.

Although the film was nominated for four Academy Awards, it came away empty. Even so, the review site RottenTomatoes.com gives the movie a rare “100% fresh” rating. And the American Film Institute named it number 42  in its 100 Years…100 Movies series, and number 14 in 100 Years…100 Thrills.

Film: The Hope and Crosby “Road” Movies

Hope, Crosby, and Lamour made six movies together, and the best was probably The Road to Morocco. Uploaded by girl-world-decor.blogspot.com.

There were seven produced: The Road to Singapore (1940), The Road to Zanzibar (1941), The Road to Morocco (1942), The Road to Utopia (1946), The Road to Rio (1947), The Road to Bali (1952), and The Road to Hong Kong (1962). The weakest? Probably the last, made not by Paramount but by United Artists. The best? Probably The Road to Morocco.

The pairing of Hope (Great American Things, October 7, 2009) and Crosby (Great American Things, December 19, 2009), both successful at the start of the Forties, was inspired. The movies were scripted, of course, but a significant portion of the repartee between the two main characters was always improvised. And it was brilliant.

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One other character graced the films, and earned a handsome living from them: Dorothy Lamour. She was pretty enough to be the love interest of both men, and could sing well enough to accompany Crosby. She only appeared in a minor role in the last film, having aged out of the “love interest” part.

The movies often parodied other popular films of the day. And they featured some recurring bits, most famously the “patty cake” routine, in which Hope and Crosby would play the kids game to distract bad guys before punching them. Hope would sometimes talk to the audience as well, most famously in The Road to Bali when he said, “He’s (Crosby) gonna sing folks. Now’s the time to go and get the popcorn.”

Film: Rocky

The training sequence, concluding on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and backed by Bill Conti's Gonna Fly Now, is one of the most memorable in movie history. Uploaded by connect.in.com.

As the fight ends, an exhausted Apollo Creed says, “Ain’t gonna be no rematch.” An equally weary Rocky Balboa answers, “Don’t want one.”

But of course, there was Rocky II, III, and then I lost track. Regardless of the way the series devolved, the original Rocky is a terrific movie, though the Best Picture it won over All the President’s Men, Network, and Taxi Driver is quite a stretch.

Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay, and desperately wanted to play the lead. The studios liked the story, but doubted Stallone’s ability to draw crowds. United Artists took the chance, and they were rewarded with one of the most profitable movies in film history. The picture cost $1.1 million to make; combining domestic and overseas revenue, it brought in over $342 million.

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The training sequence, performed to Bill Conti’s memorable “Gonna Fly Now” instrumental, is one of the movies’ all-time most inspirational moments. A statue of Rocky Balboa now adorns the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, site of the scene’s triumphant conclusion.

Rocky has been recognized on eight of the American Film Institute’s “100 Years” lists including: …100 Movies (#57), …Movie Quotes – “Yo, Adrian!” (#80), …Heroes and Villains (#7), …Sports (#2), and …Songs – “Gonna Fly Now” (#58).

Film: The Caine Mutiny

Humphrey Bogart is much better known for such movies as Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. But he may have done his finest acting in The Caine Mutiny. Uploaded by images.artnet.com.

I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who was clinically paranoid. But if I ever meet someone with that mental illness, I do know that he’ll be rolling two steel balls in his hand. I know that because that’s what Humphrey Bogart (Great American Things, August 11, 2009) did as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny.

As the minesweeper destroyer USS Caine performed its duties during World War II, the sailors on board noticed increasingly strange behavior from their Captain. Eventually, a lieutenant played by Fred MacMurray tells the rest of the crew that Queeg is crazy, and they have a duty to remove him from command. The second-in-command, another great Van Johnson role, eventually agrees. During a typhoon, the Captain’s erratic decisions threaten to capsize the Caine, so Johnson steps in and relieves Bogart of his duties. When they return to port, Johnson and MacMurray face a court-martial for mutiny.

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I don’t want to spoil the ending in case you haven’t seen the film. José Ferrer is the defense counsel, and is the conscience of the film. And Bogart’s testimony is one of the most fascinating scenes ever shot on film, and perhaps his greatest ever on-screen moment.

Although the movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards, it didn’t win any. The Caine Mutiny was the second-highest-grossing film of 1954, coming in behind only White Christmas. (Great American Things, December 24, 2009)

Film: Jaws

Jaws created a whole new sub-genre of movies: The Summer Blockbuster. It was the first summer adventure movie to be released simultaneously nationwide, and the first to gross $100 million at the box office. Uploaded by tdubel.com.

Since so many of my friends are either at the beach now or will be soon, it’s only fitting that we remind them about the movie that kept Americans out of the ocean during the summer of 1975. Jaws was not only a popular success, but it created a whole new sub-genre of films: the summer blockbuster.

The film’s producers selected Steven Spielberg (Great American Things, July 22, 2009) to direct Jaws before his first movie (Sugarland Express) was released. Turned out to be a very smart decision. Spielberg streamlined the plot line from the source novel by Peter Benchley, made smart casting choices, and overcame a host of technical problems during filming. The movie came in over budget, but acquitted itself quite well, becoming the first picture to gross more than $100 million.

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The linchpin character is shark hunter Quint, played by the brilliant Robert Shaw. His obsession with great white sharks helps drive the film. Other memorable performances were turned in by Richard Dreyfuss as marine biologist Matt Hooper, Roy Scheider as police chief Martin Brody, and Murray Hamilton as the timorous mayor of the island town Amity. And of course, Jaws wouldn’t have been Jaws without the memorable score of John Williams (Great American Things, May 26, 2010).

Before this, studios usually premiered their films in a few cities, and then allowed word of mouth response to build an audience as more theaters started showing the movie. Jaws was released simultaneously to hundreds of theaters, and became more than a hit – it became a cultural phenomenon. Following its success, studios shifted their big-budget action movies to the summer where they could capitalize on the added leisure time that the season affords.

Jaws was number 48 on the American Film Institute’s original 100 Years…100 Movies countdown. It came in at number two on 100 Years…100 Thrills, and its score was chosen number six on 100 Years of Film Scores.

I featured this video in the post honoring Spielberg, but it’s so great that I’m hoping you’ll enjoy it again…

Film: Best in Show

Christopher Guest, here as Harlan Pepper the man who breeds hounds and can name every nut, is the creative force behind this brilliant mockumentary. Uploaded by static.guim.co.uk.

Somehow, you always knew the world of professional dog shows had to be inhabited by some rare breeds, and I’m not talking about the animals. Ba da boom! In Christopher Guest’s wonderful mockumentary, the dogs are perfectly normal. It’s the people who are profoundly neurotic.

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Although Guest and the brilliant Eugene Levy share the writing credit, much of Best in Show is improvised by the talented ensemble cast who clearly love to work with Guest as director. Among the actors are Parker Posey, Catherine O’Hara, Levy, John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Ed Begley, Jr., and Fred Willard.

The Mayfair Kennel Club Dog Show in Philadelphia is the destination of this menagerie of characters. One yuppie couple frets over the dog who gets paranoid whenever they’re intimate. A gay couple (Higgins and McKean) fuss over their shih tzu, and a woman with quite a libertine past (O’Hara) continues to run into former lovers, to the chagrin of her fiancé (Levy). Willard is hilarious as the show’s broadcast announcer. But Guest saved the single best character for himself, as the country boy Harlan Pepper. Pepper not only has a great hound dog, but a fondness for nuts, as you can see in this first clip (sorry about the first ten seconds)…

Film: Singin’ in the Rain

The American Film Institute named Singin' in the Rain the best musical of all time, and the number ten film. The top dances aren't ranked, but Gene Kelly's has to be in the top five. Uploaded by fishing4fun.co.uk.

For some folks, musical comedy is a film genre they just can’t tolerate. That’s too bad, because Hollywood hasn’t made many movies in any shape or form that offer the combination of great songs, amazing dance, and delightful comedy that characterizes Singin’ in the Rain.

The plot of the movie centers around the transition from silent films to talkies. There are the usual high jinks, misunderstandings, and opposites falling in love that comedies are noted for. All performed by an inspired cast, led by Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, and Jean Hagen.

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But singing and dancing are the real stars of the show. Interestingly, most of the songs weren’t written specifically for this movie. “Make ‘Em Laugh,” for example, was dangerously close to another song, “Be a Clown,” used in another film (The Pirate) four years earlier. And the title song goes all the way back to the Hollywood Revue of 1929.

As for dancing, it’s hard to say whether Donald O’Connor’s athletic antics or Gene Kelly’s joyous splashing displays the most talent. But since it’s the iconic moment of the film, we’ll give the nod to Kelly. He’s always been slightly overshadowed by the brilliance of his contemporary, Fred Astaire (Great American Things, November 13, 2009), but Kelly’s talent on display here takes second billing to no one.

Singin’ in the Rain was voted the number one movie musical in American film history by the American Film Institute in 2006. It also came in at number 10 in the AFI’s list of 100 Years…100 Movies. And the song “Singin’ In The Rain” ranks number three in their top songs…

Film: The Lion King

Disney's animation has gone downhill since The Lion King - witness Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules. Thank goodness for Pixar. Uploaded by blog.sanriotown.com.

Walt Disney Studios was on quite a roll, with each feature becoming more sophisticated in its animation, themes, and music. The Little Mermaid began this renaissance, followed by Beauty and the Beast, then Aladdin. Then in 1995, The Lion King debuted and proved itself as the finest example of the Disney ideal in the modern era.

Virtually the entire film features classic animation techniques without the aid of computers. The exception is the stampede of the wildebeests, a two-and-a-half-minute sequence that took five animators more than two years to complete.

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While I love the wonderful humor that Howard Ashman and Alan Menken brought to the songs in Mermaid and Beauty, there’s no question that the music written by Tim Rice and Elton John for The Lion King raised the film to a higher level. “The Circle of Life” was absolutely perfect as an accompaniment to the wonderful animation of the opening scene, while “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” and “Hakuna Matata” were witty and memorable.

The Lion King achieved that elusive goal that animated movies strive for – to be entertaining to children and adults on their own levels. The box office is proof of that success. During its initial release it grossed $783 million worldwide, making it the most successful film released in 1995. Also proof are its two Academy Awards (out of four nominations) and the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

Film: The Thin Man

Audiences during the Depression lived vicariously through the lives of the wealthy and charming Nick and Nora Charles. Uploaded by tvworthwatching.com.

I owe a lot of my love for classic films to my wife, and one of the treasures that she helped me to discover was The Thin Man. Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, it’s either a mysterious comedy or a lighthearted mystery. Whatever it is, you can’t help enjoying the company of Nick and Nora Charles. And their wire-haired fox terrier, Asta.

Nick and Nora were brought to life by outstanding actors William Powell and Myrna Loy. They were socialites who seemed to solve crimes just for the fun of it. Hollywood hasn’t given us another couple quite like this, and never will again, since their charm seems very much rooted in the 1930s. Audiences vicariously enjoyed escaping the rigors of the Depression by spending time with the well-to-do and engaging Charles family.

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The Thin Man was nominated for Best Picture in 1935. The movie was so successful that it spawned a series of sequels: After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), and Song of the Thin Man (1947).

By the way, the name “The Thin Man” applied to the murder victim, not to Nick Charles. But everyone associated it with the character, so that’s why it stuck for the sequels…

Film: The Sting

The Sting won 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Oddly, as great as Newman and Redford were, neither won Best Actor. Uploaded by bam.org.

Paul Newman (Great American Things, May 17, 2009) and Robert Redford co-starred in two blockbuster movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, and The Sting in 1974. The term “buddy movie” predated their partnership, and yet you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pairing of superstars than these two actors in these two movies. But if you had to choose only one, it has to be The Sting.

Director George Roy Hill used both of his stars’ strengths – Newman’s versatility, and Redford’s charm. But the biggest star of all was the screenplay written by David Ward. Ward had investigated con artists for another script he had underway, and loved the big con called “The Wire.” Everyone who read the script also loved it, making it easy to attract top talent.

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There were several excellent character parts as well in the ensemble cast. Robert Shaw was particularly strong as the mark, Doyle Lonnegan. The story is that Shaw hurt his ankle before filming began, and incorporated his limp into his character – “Ya folla?”

One other element of genius in this movie was the score, which featured ragtime tunes by Scott Joplin. They lent a wonderful period feeling to the movie, even though in reality they predated the time frame of the movie by about 25 years.

The Sting was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and won 7, including Best Picture. Oddly, Newman was not nominated for Best Actor, though Redford was – and he was one of the movie’s three nominees who didn’t win…

Film: Ben-Hur

Before the fake world of computer-generated images, the chariot scene of Ben-Hur was filmed with 15,000 extras on a special set that covered 18 acres. Uploaded by oranismo.art.br.

Charlton Heston is more closely associated with this role than any other in his celebrated career. The part of Judah Ben-Hur was originally offered to Burt Lancaster, but Lancaster was an atheist who didn’t want to appear in a film that “promoted” Christianity. So Heston got the part. The religious sections of the film didn’t bother director William Wyler, who was Jewish. Wyler had been an assistant director on the silent version of Ben-Hur back in 1925.

The sheer scale of the movie’s production is mind-boggling. The film used more than a million props, and more than 300 sets were constructed. It had the largest crew ever for a film, and the most extras – 15,000 for the chariot scene alone. Most of that would now be computer-generated, and wouldn’t have the wonderful reality created for Ben-Hur.

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Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Story of the Christ provided the source for the movie, which stayed basically true to the novel. One significant difference is that the movie ends shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, while the book continues on with Ben-Hur helping Christians to worship during the period of persecution under Emperor Nero.

Opera singer Claude Heater performed the part of Jesus, the only film appearance he ever made. Jesus appears most prominently early in the film, giving water to a suffering Ben-Hur, and of course during scenes leading up to and including his crucifixion.

You can’t feature this movie without discussing the chariot scene, one of the most famous in the history of film. It took five weeks to shoot, and took place on a specially built set that covered an incredible 18 acres. Even now, with virtually anything possible in the era of computer graphics, this is still considered one of the most spectacular productions of all time.

Ben-Hur was the top-grossing movie of 1960, and won 11 Academy Awards, a feat that’s only been equaled twice since. In the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Movies, Ben-Hur ranked number 72, and was the number two in the epic category…

Film: Little Shop of Horrors

Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Jim Belushi - and some great music, too. Uploaded by centre.edu.

This listing is for the 1986 movie, adapted from the stage musical by writer Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, which was itself adapted from a 1960 black comedy by famous B-movie direct Roger Corman.

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It’s not the plot that scintillates in this movie, but the performances and the great music. The leads, played by Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene, are fine, but it’s the supporting cast and cameo roles that really stand out. Consider this cast: Bill Murray, Steve Martin (in a fabulous turn as the dentist), John Candy, Jim Belushi, and Christopher Guest – with Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops providing the voice of Audrey, the blood-addicted alien plant. No local theater or traveling Broadway production can match that lineup.

Ashman and Menken wrote some wonderful songs, making this soundtrack a great addition to your music library. Highlights include “Skid Row (Downtown),” “Somewhere That’s Green,” “Dentist,” “Feed Me,” and “Suddenly Seymour.”

If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t view it thinking you’re going to be watching a fun fantasy. It’s a dark story, a black comedy, and has been since the original 1960 film. And yet, it’s very funny, surprisingly humane, and filled with great music. I just have one piece of advice for you:

Whatever they offer you, don’t feed the plant…

Film: The Sixth Sense

If M. Night Shyamalan never makes another terrific movie, at least he made this one. Uploaded by nobuparty.com.

“I see dead people.” One of the best-known taglines in movie history also summed up the main storyline in four words. The Sixth Sense is usually classified as a horror film, but not by me. I consider it a dark thriller.

Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis starred in this tale of the supernatural that featured one of the best surprise endings in movie history. (And please, don’t anyone spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie yet.)

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The Sixth Sense was produced on what today passes for a modest budget ($40 million) and almost earned that on its opening weekend. It was the number one movie at the box office for five consecutive weeks and earned a worldwide gross of $672.8 million. A pretty good return on the dollar, wouldn’t you say?

Six Academy Award nominations verified the film’s impact. They were for Director and Screenplay (M. Night Shyamalan), Supporting Actor (Osment), Supporting Actress (Toni Collette), Editing, and Best Picture.

M. Night Shyamalan may yet come up with a worthwhile follow-up to this spooky thriller, but he hasn’t so far. He may join the ranks of other directors who burst onto the scene with great promise, never to match their initial offering. But if that’s his destiny, he can always take comfort in knowing that he wrote and directed a classic American film.

Film: Toy Story

Woody and Buzz Lightyear are rivals and partners. And great foils for each other in both films. Uploaded by thecia.com.au.

This post honors Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999), both of which are among the best animated features of all time. In the original, Woody is Andy’s favorite toy until he’s challenged by the new toy – Buzz Lightyear. And in the sequel, Woody is taken to be part of the highly collectible Woody’s Roundup set, and his toy friends come to help him get back to Andy’s house.

The wonderful Pixar people created these films, and they possess the magical ability to make movies that can be enjoyed by all perspectives, from preschool to adult. What appeals to kids is obvious, but adults appreciate seeing the toys of their childhood brought to life in a smart, witty, and visually enchanting manner.

Part of the films’ success comes from the excellent voice characterizations provided by the likes of Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz), Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head), John Ratzenberger (Hamm the Piggy Bank), and Wallace Shawn (Rex the Dinosaur). They obviously love their roles, and their enthusiasm is easily conveyed to the audience.

Technology advanced so much between 1995 and 1999 that the sequel’s animation is visibly more fluid, and the animators took advantage to create a bigger world for the characters. Toy Story 2 became the first movie in history to be entirely created, mastered, and exhibited digitally.

Coming in June 2010 will be Toy Story 3, in which Woody, Buzz and friends are dumped in a daycare center when Andy goes off to college. Among the stars voicing parts in this new film are Robin Williams, Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg, Bonnie Hunt, and Ned Beatty. I don’t think Pixar will let us down, do you?

Here’s the haunting “When Somebody Loved Me” from Toy Story 2…and the trailer for Toy Story 3: