Battleground (1949)

This print may be gorgeous, but Battleground is grimy. This is a film that is down in the dirt and the snow, eye-level with the foxholes (and, presumably, latrines) as they’re being dug. Everyone is caked in dirt and lord knows what else — in Kinnie’s (James Whitmore’s) case, it’s post-chewed tobacco and saliva. They’re underfed, under-informed, used and abused and forced to wear boots that don’t fit while marching about a thousand miles a day. This may sound strange to say to the uninitiated, but it’s the filth that makes Battleground so great.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Bad Day is mostly known as being an allegory for McCarthyism as well as a statement against the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, but it’s also a taut thriller based on good old-fashioned persecution fantasy, especially considering the quiet, amiable Macreedy is such a cipher that the bad guys can’t dig up even one detail on him that he doesn’t tell them himself. It’s also one of the quintessential examples of the overlap between film noir and western genres that produced such great films in the 1950s; listen to the “patriotic drunk” speech and tell me that couldn’t be picked up and plonked right down into a late-40s black and white noir starring Robert Mitchum.

Five Days One Summer (1982)

Dr. Douglas Meredith (Sean Connery) is on a climbing holiday in the Alps with his young wife Kate (Betsy Brantley). They’re happy and in love, but complications arise when Johann (Lambert Wilson), a handsome young climbing instructor, falls for Kate, and she begins to have feelings for him as well. Douglas senses the competition as…

Doc Hollywood (1991)

Doc Hollywood hearkens back to the days of older, inoffensive entertainment, including a scene with an outdoor late night showing of The General (1927), though there are a few moments that belie the film’s mild-mannered demeanor, mainly an early scene when Lou is introduced to us, completely and gratuitously nude. A local resident who was present for much of the filming in Micanopy, Florida, the stand-in for the fictitious Grady, later said that the nude scenes were included specifically to avoid a G rating.

It’s a Date (1940)

It’s a Date is impressive in that it presages the post-war bobby soxer films by a few years, as well as the Hawaiian fashion trend; in fact, Peter Stackpole’s now-famous photo spread featuring Hawaiian and Polynesian fashions in Life Magazine didn’t go to print until after It’s a Date was released. This was clearly meant to be a trendy film, one to appeal to the younger crowd, particularly the ladies who were Durbin’s biggest fans.

My Fellow Americans (1996)

My Fellow Americans is exceedingly kind to its two leads, who are allowed to be charming and charismatic and fun, and whose sheer exuberance turns a strange tale about the attempted assassination of two former presidents into a delightful, lighthearted comedy.

Victor/Victoria (1982)

Victor/Victoria happily embraces the been-there-done-that tone of a film that, fifty years after the original, knows its plot should no longer be scandalous. The genius of the film’s nonchalant sexuality is that gender-bending, drag and homosexuality were still salacious in 1982, and Victor/Victoria shows better than any other film before or since just how ridiculous that is.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

The failures of the women in Woolf are reflective of the time in which it was made, which is ironic, considering this was very clearly intended to be an indictment of America’s sociocultural clime. It succeeds as being timeless far better than almost any other social consciousness film, and certainly is one of Albee’s best in this regard, but the need for the play to destroy Honey and Martha is telling.

Bulldog Drummond (1929) and Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951)

Bulldog Drummond (1929) was not the first film based on the popular British character, but it was the first talking film, and thanks to being a product of Sam Goldwyn’s exacting (though sometimes baffling) standards, it’s probably one of the best early talkies made. It’s fun and exciting and shockingly modern, with a camera that moves and audio that’s easy to hear and jokes that don’t fall flat — you can’t say that about most early talkies.

The Man and the Moment (1929)

The big surprise here is that, despite its many flaws, The Man and the Moment is still a lot of fun to watch. Maybe not entirely for the reasons it was meant to be fun — La Rocque channels Franklin Pangborn a lot and I find that charming and fascinating — but at this late date, who’s to quibble? Just being able to watch the film is a fantastic thing.