By Marja

Since I have not followed up the Oscars 2021 nominations, instead, I shortlist the best movies of all time – in my humble opinion. As an outdated dinosaur, I look back by putting together a list of my personal favorites from the 1930s to 2010.

I neither rate these top movies nor insist on their reckoning among the world’s greatest pieces of cinema, although many of them were awarded by the most prestigious prizes of the international film industry, including the Oscars. They just captivated my mind – either entertained or moved me deeply – so that I memorized their watching as an elevating experience.  Perhaps the timing was just the right while the character of a given film resonated with my own mood at that time. I won’t be sure if the same film still impresses me as much as back then. Moreover, I realize that there is a huge number of awesome films I have missed for some reason but hope to watch one day.

Should I seek out the best of the best, my top three nominations would consist of two German films and a Finnish drama adapted from a multigenerational family saga.  My winners are Head-On (2004), The Lives of Others (2006), and Louisa, the Young Wife of the Farmhouse Niskavuori (1946). Why did I pick up these movies?  Although I’ve seen them 3–4 times, remembering their plot, they will never lose their alluring charm but, by contrast, always uncover further nuances.

In spite of Hollywood’s dominance of the film industry, California’s dream factory is not exclusively the only production plant of marvelous movies. If you get curious about the European films mentioned below, browse the internet and track them down! I copy-paste the descriptions of the listed American films from their respective Wikipedia sites.

American

Gone with the Wind (1939) is an epic historical romance film adapted from the novel by Margaret Mitchell. Set in the American South against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction era, the film tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner.  It follows her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes, who is married to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, and her subsequent marriage to Rhett Butler.

Starring: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland

Source: https://variety.com/2020/digital/news/gone-with-the-wind-hbo-max-disclaimer-horrors-slavery-1234648726/

Casablanca (1942) is a romantic drama film set during World War II. It focuses on a hard-drinking American expatriate, Rick, who is running a nightclub in Casablanca when Morocco is a crossroads for spies, traitors, Nazis and the French Resistance. The woman Rick loved years earlier in Paris enters his restaurant. He must choose between his love for a woman and helping her and her husband, a Czech resistance leader, escape from the Vichy-controlled city to continue his fight against the Germans.

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman

The Sting (1973) is a humorous caper film set in September 1936, involving a complicated plot by two professional grifters to con a mob boss. The title phrase refers to the moment when a con artist finishes the “play” and takes the mark’s money. If a con is successful, the mark does not realize he has been cheated until the con men are long gone.  The film is played out in distinct sections with old-fashioned title cards.  It is also noted for its anachronistic use of ragtime music.

Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford

Source: http://basementrejects.com/review/the-sting-1973/

Sophie’s Choice (1982) is a drama film adapted from William Styron’s novel of the same name. The film stars Meryl Streep as Zofia “Sophie” Zawistowski, a Polish immigrant with a dark secret from her past.  She shares a boarding house in Brooklyn with her tempestuous lover Nathan and a young writer Stingo.  Sophie reveals to Stingo that, upon arrival at Auschwitz, she was forced to choose which one of her two children would be gassed and which would proceed to the labor camp.

Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) is a comedy-drama film based on Fannie Flagg’s novel. An underestimated housewife befriends a resident of a nursing home and is enthralled by the tales this elderly lady (Ninny) shares of her past. Ninny’s colorful memories revolve around two women’s friendship in 1920s Alabama. Those two women opened the Whistle Stop Cafe, employing a cook who excelled with a barbecue.  A culmination of the story has something to do with the barbecue.

Starring: Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker

The Bridges of Madison County (1995) is a romantic drama film based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Robert James Waller.  The film is set in 1965, featuring an Italian war bride, Francesca, who lives with her husband and two children on their Iowa farm.  That year she meets
National Geographic photojournalist, who comes to Madison County to photograph its historic
covered bridges. With Francesca’s family away for a short trip, the late middle-aged couple have an intense, four-day love affair.

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep

Source: https://medium.com/@susanamieko/melodrama-in-the-bridges-of-madison-county-b147a95be1c9

UK & USA

A Fish Called Wanda (1988) is a heist comedy.  The story centers around a quartet of jewelry store robbers. The gang of diamond thieves double-crosses one another to find stolen diamonds hidden by the gang leader.  A barrister becomes a central figure as femme fatale Wanda uses him to locate the loot. With its uniquely eccentric characters and delightfully absurd storyline, the film is unquestionably one of the funniest films ever made.

Starring: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin

European

Bicycle Thieves (1948) Italy | neorealist drama

Little World of Don Camillo (1952) Italy–France | comedy

Source: https://www.toutelatele.com/don-camillo-monseigneur-c8-pourquoi-fernandel-a-failli-etre-prive-d-une-suite-123890

Doctor Zhivago (1965) UK–Italy | epic romantic drama

Head-On (2004) Germany | German-Turkish drama placed in Hamburg and Istanbul

Source: https://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/dvd-edition-deutscher-film-gegen-die-wand-fotostrecke-50428.html

The Lives of Others (2006) Germany | drama/mystery placed in East Berlin, the former GDR

Source: https://inperu.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/das-leben-der-anderen-the-lives-of-others/

The King’s Speech (2010) UK | historical drama

Finnish

Substitute Wife (1936) [Vaimoke] | romantic comedy

Juha (1937) [‘Juha’ is a male name.] | historical drama adapted from a famous novel

Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0137048/characters/nm0782579

Louisa, the Young Wife of the Farmhouse Niskavuori (1946) [Loviisa, Niskavuoren nuori emäntä] | romantic, historical drama with social connotations

The Unknown Soldier (1955) [Tuntematon sotilas] | war film but very different from Hollywood’s style

Drifting Clouds (1996) [Kauas pilvet karkaavat] | laconic sociodrama

Letters to Father Jacob (2009) [Postia pappi Jaakobille] | drama

Questions to YOU, dear reader:

  • How do the Oscar winners of this year compare to the old masterpieces?
  • Which films would you recommend?
  • Who is your favorite actor? I enclose photos of my favorite actors.  Do you recognize them?  Are you able to link their portraits to the films mentioned above?