Unforgiven(1992, dir. Clint Eastwood) had an amazing cast that delivered two of the best supporting actor nominations (won one) that year. The great cast anchors this gritty western that is as much a nostalgia piece on the Western as it is on the West. The performance, writing, and cinematography finally come together to give a depth to the western genre that it richly deserved and almost never achieved.
The Departed (2006, dir. Martin Scorsese) has an all-star cast (and Mark Walberg) that deliver great performances under stellar direction. As with Unforgiven above, the protagonist and antagonist really do not meet until the final act. Instead passing each other rapidly without collision gives a tension and suspense that makes this one of the best films in decades.
Casablanca(1942, dir. Michael Curtiz) was once derided in a film class as “so cliché.” Allow me to retort. No, everything else is cliché!
Philadelphia Story(1940, dir. George Cukor): Who decided that funny movies about relationships had to be stupid? Katherine Hepburn is gorgeous and funny and backed up by the ever brilliant Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.
Rocky(1976, dir. John Avildsen) , the movie is as much a part of the lexicon of American masculinity as Patton or Die Hard—just a better film. The idea of that with hard work and a belief in oneself, “nothing is impossible,” is infectious. The fact that this optimistic film resonated powerfully in the wake of Vietnam, Watergate, and a recession in 1970s is testament to it the endurance of American optimism and the purity of the message.
In Vertigo (1958, dir. Alfred Hitchcock), Jimmy Stewart, the quintessential everyman, the warm and loveable Elwood P. Dowd and George Bailey…not if Hitchcock has anything to say about it. Stewart gets to turn on the crazy in this rare role and he turns it up until the dial snaps.
Dark Knight (2008, dir. Christopher Nolan) gave us great performances, stunning visual effects that are careful not to detract from the drama, and writing that is both fun and insightful. Batman is one of the most brilliant characters of 20th century English literature. He is fit to rank with Ulysses and Hector as one of the great mythological heroes. The current trilogy has given us both gritty realism in the comic book genre and a portrait of urban decay, rebirth, and turmoil usually...
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944, dir. Frank Capra) is a great example of the American family in all its dysfunction, sentimentality, and murder. Yes, murder. NOW GO SEE IT!
Honorable mentions include but are not limited to:
Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (2004, dir. Quentin Tarantino),
Die Hard (1988, dir. John McTiernan) and Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995, dir. John McTiernan),
Pulp Fiction (1994, dir. Quentin Tarantino),
Braveheart (1995, dir. Mel Gibson),
Boystown (1938, dir. Norman Taurog),
and Harvey (1950, dir. Henry Coster).