The Godfather, Part I - When I first read the Mario Puzo novel, it hit me like a thunderbolt. It told the story of Italian immigrants, one with which I strongly identified, who chose or were driven (depending on your point of view) to a life of crime. The characters were complex; violent criminals but with their own set of street rules and family values (no pun intended). Puzo had such a grasp of the Italian-American lifestyle, and was a master storyteller. My one worry when the book was made into a movie was how well it would translate to the screen. The film was not only true to the book, but in some ways surpassed it, with inspired casting that breathed life into Puzo's broad cast of characters. This may be my favorite movie ever.
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee had only one major novel to her credit, but it was a doozie. To Kill a Mockingbird was not only a compelling courtroom drama, but also brought into the realm of fiction one of the strongest characters ever, Mississippi lawyer Atticus Finch, played brilliantly by Gregory Peck. The film's two main themes deal with Finch's defense of an unjustly accused man, and his two children learning about right and wrong. One memorable character who never spoke a line, but who played a pivotal role in the movie was Boo Radley, played by a young Robert Duval. I heard Peck say in an interview that this was his "career role" and the one most fans asked him about.
Gone With the Wind - Like Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell hit one monster home run in her literary career, and it was this sweeping saga of America's Civil War. The movie works, not only on a dramatic level, but as a history lesson, as we see the cocky, gallant Confederacy defeated utterly by the armies of the Union. Gone With the Wind filled the screen with powerful images ranging from life in the genteel, pre-war South to brutal scenes of war and death. Directed by Victor Flemming, who replaced George Cukor, the movie featured outstanding performances by Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, with brilliant support from Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard. Just grab your popcorn and take the phone off the hook, this movie never disappoints.
Blazing Saddles - Got to have some laughs on our desert island, and this little gem delivers them. I know there are film purists who would place the Marx Brothers or Charlie Chaplin at the top of the comedy movie ranks, but sorry folks, their films never made me laugh like this one. The casting director deserves special mention for choosing Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, David Huddleston, and Alex Karras to fill the screen with bizarre characters to say Mel Brooks' hilarious lines. This selection narrowly won out over Caddyshack; they are probably the only two comedies I can sit and watch over and over.
Lord of the Rings Trilogy - One could argue that this is three films, but the story is too big to tell in a single movie. J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy tales totally captured my imagination when I first read his books as a young man. We can only marvel at the genius of this Oxford scholar who invented a whole world of wizards, hobbits, elves, dwarfs and men locked in a classic battle of good versus evil. Again I worried, would it make a good film? Director Peter Jackson shopped this project around before he found a company willing to give him a green light. The results speak for themselves. Lucas and Spielberg's original Star Wars, a landmark film, finished second in the fantasy category.
It's a Wonderful Life - This Christmas present from Frank Capra to all of us probably wouldn't make most peoples' top six list. Those of you who read these posts know I have a minor obsession with the film. (See 12/21/08 post: "ZuZu's Petals".) Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and a great supporting cast give us a film that makes us laugh, cry, and most important, reminds us that we all make a difference in someone's life. The most commonly prescribed-for illness in the United States is depression. This movie is my prescription for depression; it never fails to give me a lift.
I know I only said six, but surely you won't banish me to a desert island without an animated movie. My choice, hands down, would be Walt Disney's classic, Pinocchio. Incomparable Disney animation from the studio's most productive days coupled with a wonderful story based on the book by Italy's Carlo Collodi is enough to make any wayward boy happy.
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