List: Best Movie Casts #20-1

Here’s the next set of entries in my list of the best ensemble movie casts of all time. See #100-81, #80-61, #60-41 and #40-21.

20. Forrest Gump (1994: Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Robin Wright, Sally Field)

19. The Wizard of Oz (1939: Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton, Frank Morgan)
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18. The Color Purple (1985: Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Avery)

17. The Maltese Falcon (1941: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet)

16. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946: Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell)

15. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951: Vivian Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter)

14. Dr. Strangelove (1964: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens)

13. Les Misérables (2012: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway)

12. Sense and Sensibility (1995: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Gemma Jones)

11. 12 Angry Men (1957: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Joseph Sweeney)

10. All about Eve (1950: Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Celeste Holm, George Sanders)

9. Pulp Fiction (1994: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis)

8. Stalag 17 (1953: William Holden, Otto Preminger, Peter Graves, Sig Ruman)

7. Lifeboat (1944: Talulah Bankhead, Walter Slezak, William Bendix, Heather Angel)

6. Some Like It Hot (1959: Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Marylin Monroe, Joe E. Brown)

5. On the Waterfront (1954: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb)

4. Casablanca (1942: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre)

3. The Godfather (1972: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall)

2. Citizen Kane (1941: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick)

1.The Godfather Part II (1974: Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Diane Keaton, Lee Strasburg)
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The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

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Most movie versions of the Robin Hood legends are so full of swashbuckling that the richness of the story and its picture of justice are all but lost. But Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) captured everything that a Robin Hood story is supposed to be without compromising the swashbuckling in The Adventures of Robin Hood with Eroll Flynn at the center of some of the greatest action and some of the most captivating drama ever filmed.

This version of the story’s Marian, played by Olivia de Havilland (The Snake Pit), is initially averse to Robin because she’s been raised to believe that only Normans like her are real English people. Since Robin is a Saxon, she assumes that he’s nothing but a thief, murderer and troublemaker. Of course it’s Robin that opens her heart, but in this movie version he opens her heart to much more than himself and the possibility of romance between a Norman and a Saxon. He opens her heart to empathy for the less fortunate, the equality of all people and the need for justice.

Marian awakens from the sleep of assuming that her ways and her people are always right because Robin shows her the results of the oppression her people has caused. When she sees the depth of the poverty and suffering that the Saxons experience at the hands of the Normans, she tells Robin that he’s very odd. He retorts by asking, “because I care that people are suffering injustice?” And Marian finishes the conversation by saying, “No. You’re odd because you want to do something about it.”

Marian’s worldview was shaped by the assumption that her leaders are always right. So even once she realized that they weren’t, it was very difficult for her to begin fighting for what was right even though she now understood that her life had been built on unjust lies. Not until she stops understanding the Saxons as her people and can view all people as her people can she truly join Robin in his genuine pursuit of justice.

The type of awakening to justice that Michael Curtiz’s The Adventures of Robin Hood allows to witness through Marian is exactly what is needed in much of America right now. We’ve seen horrible images and heard horrible sounds of children torn apart from their parents at the borders and a president who ridiculously reversed his own policy through an unnecessary executive order that shows no compassion for people but only his desire to prevent people from thinking any differently about him than how he wants them to think. As we’ve seen all this unfold, we’ve seen a large group of Christians that wants to hypocritically condemn these actions but stand by their beloved hypocritical president at the same time. We’ve seen another group of Christians, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who simply doesn’t care as long as the law is being followed (pay no attention to the fact that there never was a law saying this should happen). Just like Sessions, they hide behind their interpretations Scriptures that talk about obedience to authority without any context to what those passages are actually saying.

Just as Maid Marian realized she was wrong for following such a corrupt and oppressive governmental system and that she needed to begin siding for what is right, so much of the American Christian church today needs to recognize the hypocrisy, terrorism and compulsive lies of Donald J. Trump for exactly what they are and run as far from them as possible in order to be true to words of the Bible they claim to hold so dear. To do this is to care for the “least of these” as Jesus himself commanded, even if it violates law or presidential policy. Robin Hood’s stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is a very nice parallel to what it will look like if these Christians finally turn from the evils of Donald Trump and live lives of love, charity and justice as commanded in the Bible.

List: Best Movie Casts #40-21

Here’s the next set of entries in my list of the best ensemble movie casts of all time. See #100-81 here, #80-61 here, and #60-41 here.

40. The Bad Seed (1956: Patty McCormick, Nancy Kelly, Eileen Heckert, Henry Jones)

39. Fargo (1996: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare)

38. The Shawshank Redemption (1994: Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins, James Whitmore)
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37. The Full Monty (1997: Tom Wilkinson, Mark Addy, Robert Carlyle, Paul Barber)

36. The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933: Charles Laughton, Wendy Barrie, Merle Oberon)

35. A Christmas Story (1983: Peter Billingly, Darrin McGavin, Melinda Dillon)

34. Midnight in Paris (2011: Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Allison Pill, Corey Stoll)

33. Inglourious Basterds (2009: Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurant)

32. The Women (1939: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell)

31. On Golden Pond (1981: Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Doug McKeon)

30. Pride and Prejudice (1940: Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Edmund Gwenn)

29. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton)

28. Magnolia (1999: Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, William H. Macy)

27. Grand Hotel (1932: Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Walace Beery, John Barrymore)

26. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt)

25. The Sting (1973: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Robert Earl Jones)

24. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Brad Dourif)

23. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961: Richard Widmark, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland)

22. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Jane Darwell)

21. The Manchurian Candidate (1962: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury)
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Boys n the Hood (1991)

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John Singleton’s Boys n the Hood is possibly the most important, most thoughtful and best coming-of-age story ever put on film. It centers around the two relationships that form the life of Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.). First is his relationship with his father Furious (Lawrence Fishburn), and second is his relationship with his gang-influenced neighborhood.

In the movie’s opening scene, we see Tre around age 11 in a fight at his school, where he was very much in the right. But he had made an agreement with his mother that if he ever got into a fight, he would have to go live with his father. He was scared to go live with his father, but his mother’s decision was not a punishment for getting into a fight but the necessary action of a mother. She made the agreement with her son, because she understood his involvement in fights as evidence that he needed his father to raise him, to teach him how to be a man. And this is exactly what we see happen throughout the rest of the movie.

Through his own actions and experience, Furious teaches his son how to become a good man in difficult surroundings. He shows him how the gang mentalities that have infiltrated the neighborhood are the results of systemic racism, but he never allows anyone, especially his son, to use that as an excuse to give into the hopelessness or violence of the hood. Furious teaches that the police are to be feared and respected, both for the good they are supposed to do as well for the racial bias and brutality more often experienced in the hood than any good, recognizing that Tre could be a victim of police brutality at any time just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. One of the perfect touches of the film is how every time police officers are present, the camera always ironically emphasizes the words on the police car that say “to protect and serve” while showing police behavior that does the opposite.

Because everything that Furious teaches his son is based on his own experience, the fact that Tre was born when Furious was 17 is the anchor of every aspect of the father-son relationship. Their talks about sex are very frank but surprisingly conservative. Tre is surrounded by teens that have become parents. He knows he would never be one of the fathers around him who abandons his child/children and their mothers, but he also knows that an unwanted pregnancy would be devastating to his dreams of getting out of the hood. Just as Furious teaches Tre an appropriate fear for the gangs and the police, he also teaches him an appropriate fear of sex. The best line in the movie is when Furious says, “any fool with a d*** can make a baby, but only a real man can be a father.” Whenever the two are together, Furious lives this and shows his son how to as well.

The other formative relationship for Tre, his relationship with the hood, is the test of how well he applies everything he learns from his father. His dismissals of the most notorious gangster in the neighborhood, Doughboy (Ice Cube), shows how well he’s trying. His genuine love and respect of his girlfriend Brandi (Nia Long) looks completely different from any of the romantic/sexual relationships in the hood. But the fact that Doughboy’s brother is Tre’s best friend Ricky (Morris Chestnut) is where the rubber meets the road for Tre. The scenes that keep us asking whether or not Tre will listen to the voice of his father when confronted by the voice of the hood when it comes to all he experiences in his friendship with Ricky are handled in way almost like a thriller. We are so invested in Tre’s wellbeing that his deliberations over life-altering decisions are some of the most intense and exciting moments the movies have ever brought us. Boyz n the Hood transcends both coming-of-age and gangster film genres by taking us directly into the life of a kid living in the hood who wants to stay separate from that same hood. Its political and racial implications are very important for the America we live in 27 years later. Its philosophical and spiritual implications are universal, confronting all viewers with the questions of how and why we make the decisions we do and what are the voices we listen to and value that inform those decisions.

 

List: Best Movie Casts #60-41

Here’s the next set of entries in my list of the best ensemble movie casts of all time. See #100-81 here and #80-61 here.

 

60. Secrets & Lies (1996: Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Timothy Spall)

59. Charade (1963: Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn)

58. Unforgiven (1992: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris)

57. Singin’ in the Rain (1952: Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen, Donald O’Connor)

56. Bringing up Baby (1938: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, May Robson)

55. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, Ruth Donnelly)
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54.  (1963: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Claudia Cardinale, Sandra Milo)

53. Django Unchained (2012: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio)

52. Network (1976: Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, William Holden, Ned Beatty)

51. Shadow of a Doubt (1943: Joseph Cotten, Theresa Wright, Patricia Collinge)

50. Blade Runner (1982: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah)

49. This Is Spinal Tap (1984: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer)

48. The Apartment (1960: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray)

47. The Butler (2013: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Liev Scheiber)

46. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012: Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson)

45. The Band’s Visit (2007: Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Shlomi Avraham)

44. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000: George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, John Tuturro)

43. Anatomy of a Murder (1959: James Stewart, Arthur O’Connell, Lee Remick)

42. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944: Cary Grant, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre, Jean Adair)

41. Do the Right Thing (1989: Spike Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Bill Nunn, Danny Aiello)
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The Band’s Visit (2007)

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On Sunday night, the 72nd annual Tony Awards were held for the best shows of the 2017-18 Broadway theater season. The big winner was a new musical based on the delightful 2007 Israeli film The Band’s Visit. The movie opens with a disclaimer that what we’re about to see are things that happened that don’t matter much. I can’t help but imagine how much better Hollywood would be if it approached true stories in this way instead of the heavy-handed way it usually does with the tag “based on a true story” used to hype its self-importance.

Because The Band’s Visit makes no pretentious of importance, it charms us, entertains us  and eases us into its profound message always buried deep beneath the surface of the enchanting comedy we’re given. The events the movie depicts center around a military band getting stranded, certainly living up to the disclaimer that the events don’t matter much. But because the band is an Egyptian military band stranded in Israel, the seemingly unimportant events show how sometimes the things that seem most trivial can have an impact far beyond what we realize.

The Egyptian band members are forced to accept the hospitality of the Israeli restaurant owner Dina (Ronit Elkabetz). They don’t speak each other’s language, but everybody involved knows enough English to get by during this encounter. Perhaps the most inventive aspect of the movie made entirely in non-English-speaking countries is something that can be best appreciated by native English speakers. Of course we get English subtitles whenever the Egyptians are talking amongst themselves and whenever the Israelis are talking amongst themselves, but we also get English subtitles whenever Egyptian characters and Israeli characters are speaking to each other in English. We need this because the people of both original languages speak a broken English that is very different from the other’s broken English. The English language is their only way to communicate with each other, yet they have each learned the language differently and express themselves so differently that the Israeli-English and Egyptian-English we hear spoken throughout the movie sound like two different languages.

These differences in how the Israelis and Egyptians express themselves in English is highlighted through the English subtitles we see that express the intent of what the characters are trying to say more than the words they use that are based on their limitations of speaking a second language. These differences are the very heart of the movie as its source of some of the funniest moments in any movie I’ve ever seen (particularly the moment when an Egyptian character tries to woo an Israeli character by impressing her with his skills in the English language proclaiming, “You have eyes”). These differences are also the source of all the genuine warmth that The Band’s Visit has to offer. These characters work very hard to bridge gaps to be able to communicate with each other. The movie doesn’t introduce us to any of the political conflict of the Arab-Israeli world, but that conflict is the backdrop for introducing us to a group of people on both sides of the conflict who did not allow their politics to determine how they view each other. All through a seemingly unimportant accident, lives intersected that aren’t usually supposed to intersect.

One of the winners of Sunday night’s Tony Awards described the story of The Band’s Visit very simply as a picture of Arabs and Israelis getting along with each other, something we desperately need. He’s absolutely right, and the simplicity of the story is its power. Because it doesn’t take itself seriously and allows the importance and the humanity of the story to all flow out of its humor, director Eran Kolirin made a movie that, despite its opening disclaimer, is very important in an extremely subtle, artistic and hilarious way.

List: Best Movie Casts #80-61

Here’s the next set of entries in my list of the best ensemble movie casts of all time. See #100-81 here.

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80. Holiday (1938: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lew Ayres, Edward Everett Horton)

79. Chicago (2002: Rene Zelwigger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah).

78. Mansfield Park (1999: Frances O’Conner, Harold Pinter, Jonny Lee Miller)

77. Guys and Dolls (1955: Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, Jean Simmons)

76. La cage aux folles (1978: Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Serrault, Benny Luke, Michel Galabru)

75. Little Miss Sunshine (2006: Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano)

74. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014: Ralph Feinnes, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton)

73. Emma (1996: Gwyneth Paltrow, Toni Collette, Alan Cummings, Juliette Stevenson)

72. Boyz n the Hood (1991: Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburn, Angela Bassett)

71. The Snake Pit (1948: Olivia de Havilland, Celeste Holm, Beulah Bondi Leo Glenn)

70. All or Nothing (2002: Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, James Corden)

69. Home for the Holidays (1995: Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Robert Downy, Jr.)

68. Moonstruck (1987: Cher, Olympia Dukakis, Nicholas Cage, Danny Aiello)

67. Ed Wood (1994: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray)

66. You Can’t Take It with You (1938: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore)

65. My Man Godfrey (1936: William Powell, Carole Lombard, Alice Brady, Jean Dixon)

64. Parenthood (1989: Jason Robards, Diane Wiest, Tom Hulce, Steve Martin)

63. Gaslight (1944: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, May Whitty)

62. The Social Network (2012: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake)

61. A Prairie Home Companion (2006: Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline)
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