The Great Movie List: A Theory of Everything

Top 91-20 Double Features

  1. Conventional vs. Unconventional Exercises in War Flick: Saving Private Ryan (1998), Full Metal Jacket (1987)
  2. Manifest Destiny: Gangs of New York (2002), West Side Story (1961)
    Like the era of Day-Lewis’ tour de force, hate-filled construction Bill the Butcher, the politics of the 2010’s in America has laid bare bitter divisions about what is America. The need to either define or redefine a concept of “America” has emerged, probably mainly because one rich clown, protected by an army of lawyers, backed by a cable “news” channel happy to lie to its audience, emboldened by rallies filled with a base of Libertarian Alt-Right neo-nazis, paid his way up to the highest seat in the land all while relying on racist and jingoistic tactics. Similar cynical policies and stratagems appear throughout cinema history, where the faux distinctions make for explosive confrontations, dynamic drama. Latin American exodus, emancipated blacks, seekers of religious freedom, refugees running from genocide, victims of expansionist doctrine… the background of the immigrant changes, but there’s always a self-proclaimed “nativist” to reject them. “Once an immigrant, always an immigrant” says Anita in West Side Story, to introduce one of film history’s most entertaining and poignant musical numbers, but the concept is not true if you take the long view, or the Native American would be running the world. In America, apparently, anyone can become the nativist, if they are prepared to abide a necessary generational patience, ignore those pesky little facts about where they originally came from, and engage in grisly, bare-knuckled, eye-gouging political combat. And, of course, to ignore basic human decency.

    Such is the impact of a politics of anger. For a time, it attracts followers and cements loyalties, breeding a spiraling mass of dangerous passions, inspiring some Americans to cast their opponents as a dangerous “other,” dividing the nation, and linking manhood with authority in rhetoric as well as fact. ~ Joanne Freeman, Professor of history and American studies at Yale University, “America Descends Into the Politics of Rage” for The Atlantic

    More: Scorsese’s Film Portrays Racist Mass Murderers as Victims, West Side Story: The Blood and Dirt of the Streets, Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and the Road to West Side Story, Classic Films: West Side Story, Dance Review: West Side Story, Coming to America: 19 Movies About U.S. Immigration, Fire, Hatred and Speed! The Glamour, Bullying and Violence of the Libertarian Alt-Right Has a Direct Political Ancestor, and It’s Not Nazi Germany.

  3. Dream Stuff: Brigadoon (1954), Castle in the Sky (1986),
    More: The Art of Self-Creation: Minnelli’s Brigadoon, “The Eyes Have It: Cinema and the Reality Effect” on Scenic Painter George Gibson
  4. Edging Modernity: A Place in the Sun (1951), East of Eden (1955), Giant (1956)
    Kind of an old versus new battle royale. Or Elizabeth Taylor v James Dean. Classic fifties melodramas filled with plenty of predictable Old Hollywood elements, which Elizabeth Taylor could comfortably personify, that also hint at the international postmodern cinema of the next decade, which one could argue the mumblings of Montgomery Clift and James Dean epitomize.

    Giant… is not only unlike anything else made in 1956, but its spirit is bold even in 2016. In deciding to fight – to literally fight – against prejudice, Bick Benedict ends up in a different, more enlightened place than where he began. The film, too, takes its own long and winding road. What began as a western – teeming with cattle and horses and oil wells – concludes with a pop-art fistfight. ~ Bigger than Texas: Giant at 60

  5. Minors and Majors: Bull Durham, Ken Burns: Baseball (11 Episodes, 1994–2010), Sugar (2008), Ballplayer: Pelotero (2011)
  6. The Roaring 20’s: Ken Burns: Jazz (10 Episodes, 2001), The Cotton Club (1984), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Manhatta (1921)

  7. Uber Reboots: Mission Impossible (1996), Star Trek (2009), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
    Three kinetic, mechanistic reboots, with J.J. Abrams abusing the lens flare for his singular vision of the long time ago and the far future.
  8. Cause & Effect: Back to the Future (1985), La Jetée (1962), The Way Things Go (Der Lauf der Dinge) (1987), Canon (1964), Scavengers (2016)


  9. Elmore Leonard is Gold: 3:10 to Yuma (1957), Get Shorty (1995), Jackie Brown (1997), Out of Sight (1998)
  10. Childhood Myths: I Was Born, But… (1932), The Black Stallion (1979)