It’s a holiday, and your kids probably just want to stay in and watch movies anyway, so why not spend that time introducing them to some of the greatest classic Hollywood films of all time? Today’s movies are more appropriate for teenagers; some of the films from the sixties or later have swearing, sexuality, and a bit of violence. For a list of classic Hollywood films for younger kids, see yesterday’s post.
The Conversation (1974)
As I mentioned yesterday, my father brought home old movies for us to watch every weekend, and this is probably the greatest choice he ever made when bringing films home. It’s subtle but tense; the directing is brilliant; and it gives a lot of perspective into the ways technology has changed. A dramatic thriller, The Conversation is directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and because it comes sandwiched between the release of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, it’s often overshadowed in film history and the Coppola oeuvre.
Harry Caul (Hackman) is an expert in electronic surveillance; perhaps because of his profession, he is a solitary, private man who only makes calls from pay phones. He takes a job recording the conversation of a young couple in a park for an unknown client. Because of what he hears and how the clien’s personal assistant acts, Caul believes the couple is in danger. He finds himself in the middle of a nightmarish situation when confronted with the dilemma of intervening, and the consequences of his recording.
Fun fact: Watch for a young Harrison Ford. Also, the last shot of the film is probably the film’s greatest.
Other great movies that are sort of related: Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, Blow Up
You can’t introduce kids to the golden ages of cinema without introducing them to Alfred Hitchcock, who was probably one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema. Notorious is one of his lesser-known works, but it has huge star power and a riveting plot. Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, the daughter of a Nazi, who is recruited by secret agent Devlin (the ever-suave Cary Grant) to spy on suspected Nazi sympathizer Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains).
This has all the elements of every great Hitchcock: suspense, sexual tension (but it’s not explicit), evil mothers, and a murder plot. Notorious should be appropriate for kids older than 7 or 8, but they may need to be a bit older to follow and enjoy the story.
Fun fact: Because this movie was made when the Hays Code was in place, Hitchcock couldn’t show a couple kissing for longer than three seconds, so he got around that by having Bergman and Grant kiss multiple times for under three seconds each.
Other great Hitchcock movies: Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Strangers on a Train. Seen them all? Check out Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety and see if you can identify all the Hitchcocks referenced.
Raging Bull (1980)
Raging Bull is arguably the pinnacle of the careers of both director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro. The film tells the story of boxer Jake La Motta and his turbulent life and career. You and the kids don’t need to be interested in boxing to appreciate the utter amazingness of every aspect of this movie. The acting, cinematography, and even the sound effects come together to create a movie that should have won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1980 (the film lost to Robert Redford’s mediocre film Ordinary People).
Fun fact: Though the film was released in 1980, it was filmed in black and white. There is one short sequence in color, which was directed by Scorsese’s father when Scorsese fell ill.
Films by directors that influenced Scorsese: Peeping Tom, The Searchers, The Seven Samurai, L’Avventura
Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Sixties US cinema is one of the most fascinating periods because of both technological advancements (like the moon landing, nuclear bombs) and political unrest (JFK’s assassination, the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis, race riots, and Vietnam to name just a few). This spawned a host of politically provocative films, which many teenagers latch onto.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Dr. Strangelove is a war movie, but it’s a satire/comedy starring Peter Sellers (who is a genre unto himself) as many characters. The plot, which is a bit complicated, centers on a paranoid Air Force general who orders a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, as he believes their behind a plot to poison US citizens via fluoridation of the water supply. The story follows the President, the joint chiefs of staff, and the Air Force as they try to thwart the impending nuclear apocalypse.
Fun fact: Peter Sellers improvised most of his performance. He was also paid USD 1 million, more than half the movie’s entire budget.
Other great Sixties films: Easy Rider, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Manchurian Candidate, Midnight Cowboy
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
No classic film list would be complete without a film noir. While Sunset Boulevard isn’t the first film most list when naming films noir, it was one of the most-celebrated movies of its time and a painful, almost eerie portrait of relevance, delusion, and aging.
Gloria Swanson plays faded silent film star Norma Desmond, a recluse unable or unwilling to accept her decline from stardom, who hires flailing screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) to script her comeback to the silver screen. Their relationship becomes tangled – even murderous – when Joe starts working on another screenplay with a beautiful young woman. Also, watch for cameos by old film greats Buster Keaton and Cecil B. DeMille.
Fun fact: The studio rented Jean Paul Getty’s mansion to stand as Norma Desmond’s home. The rental fee? The studio, Paramount, had to build the pool, which features prominently in the film.
Other films noir: The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and Citizen Kane
Sunset Boulevard photo from Wikimedia Commons; Dr. Strangelove photo courtesy flickr user James Vaughan