Favorite Top Ten Films of All Time [#8 & #7]

Favorite Top Ten Films of All Time [#8 & #7]
List Created by Jennifer Kiley
Illustrated by j. kiley
Movie Trailers by Jk the secret keeper
Post Created on 21st August 2013
Posted On Friday 23rd August 2013

dedicated to roger ebert film friday5 stars

Favorite Top Ten Films of All Time [#10 & #9]
List Created by Jennifer Kiley

Most everyone knows the Shakespearean story of Romeo & Juliet. The contention between their families, the Montague’s and the Capulet’s. The opening lines of the play are:

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
Romeo and Juliet (1.1)

Well, remember this play as you watch the film West Side Story and you observe the disenfranchised youth of the Jets and the misplaced youth of the Sharks whose families have come from Puerto Rico to find a life in America. Instead find themselves unwelcome as we see today how anyone who is different and from the wrong country is unwelcome today. How quickly all of our ancestry forget we are and were all aliens at one time. This is how it is played out in West Side Story. You find gangs formed so young people feel they belong to something.

In Romeo and Juliet, you have large families formed through birth and through marriage. Loyalty is to the family and its extensions. Romeo unknowingly falls in love with the daughter of his families enemy and Juliet, likewise, does the same by falling in love with Romeo, the son of his families enemy. They were doomed from the start as are Tony, a former member of the Jets, and Maria, sister to the leader of the gang the Sharks. Enemies guarding territory, the Jets and the Sharks. Neither Maria or Tony could care about this territory or that they are different in race or side of a battlefield.

I will let Roger Ebert guide you through his thoughts on West Side Story. It was the first film I saw in a movie theatre on my own as a young girl. I saw the film win the Oscar for Best Picture and a number of other awards. Somewhere, one of the many beautiful songs Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim created, has been my favorite song. It was my graduation song from eighth grade and it’s a perfect song for those people who feel different. To be it is the anthem of being Gay and Lesbian and Transgender or differences of any kind. “There’s a place for us, somewhere, someday.”

I will turn it over to Roger Ebert now. I like using his reviews. It keeps him alive for me. When I wanted to know about a film I would always go to his web page to read his reviews. It gave me a good sense of the film. I didn’t always agree with him but why should I. I think for myself. Roger Ebert wouldn’t have it any other way. So Here’s Roger… by Jennifer Kiley

#8th — West Side Story

west-side-story poster red the one 1

West Side Story
Roger Ebert
February 15, 2004

Although “West Side Story” was named the best picture of 1961 and won 10 Academy Awards, it is not much mentioned by movie fans these days, and the old warhorse “Singin’ in the Rain” is probably more seen and certainly better loved.

west side story maria meets tony first time at dance 1

west side story at dance tony and maria leaning in toward each other 1

west-side-story b and w tony and maria dancing 1

“West Side Story” was the kind of musical people thought was good for them, a pious expression of admirable but unrealistic liberal sentiments, and certainly its street gangs at war — one Puerto Rican, one the descendants of European immigrants — seem touchingly innocent compared to contemporary reality.

west side story balcony_wide maria tony 1

west side story balcony hugging on knees 1

I hadn’t seen it since it was released in 1961, nor had I much wanted to, although I’ve seen “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Swing Time,” “Top Hat,” “My Fair Lady” and “An American in Paris” countless times during those years. My muted enthusiasm is shared. Although “West Side Story” placed No. 41 in the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest films of all time, the less industry-oriented voters at the Internet Movie Database don’t even have it in the top 250.

West-Side-Story in dress shop tony and maria 1

Still, the new two-disc restored edition of the movie inspired me to look at it again, and I think there are great things in the movie, especially some of the songs of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, the powerful performances by Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, and above all Jerome Robbins’ choreography. It is a great movie … in parts. Mainstream critics loved it in 1961. Bosley Crowther in the New York Times thought its message “should be heard by thoughtful people — sympathetic people — all over the land.”

West-Side-Story maria holding tony's hand  he is not in photo 1

What is the message? Doc, the little Jewish candy store owner, expresses it to warring street gangs: “You kids make this world lousy! When will you stop?” It’s a strong moment, and Ned Glass’ Doc is one of the most authentic characters in the film, but really: Has a racist ever walked into a movie and been converted by a line of dialogue? Isn’t this movie preaching to the choir?

west side story tony and maria pretending to get married 1

The scenario by Arthur Laurents is famously inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” although it shies away from the complete tragedy of the original by fudging the ending. It is not a cosmic misunderstanding but angry gunfire that kills Tony, and Maria doesn’t die at all; she snatches the gun and threatens to shoot herself, but drops it — perhaps because suicide would have been too heavy a load for the movie to carry. Then as now, there is a powerful bias in show business toward happy endings.

west side story riff is stabbed tony behind him in shock 1

Such lapses seemed crucial to the best critics reviewing the movie. Although Stanley Kauffmann named “West Side Story” “the best film musical ever made” when it came out in 1961, the rest of his review seemed to undermine that claim; he said it lacks a towering conclusion, is useless and facile as sociology, and the hint of a reconciliation between the two gangs at the end is “utter falseness.” Pauline Kael’s review scorched the earth: The movie was “frenzied hokum,” the dialogue was “painfully old-fashioned and mawkish,” the dancing was “simpering, sickly romantic ballet,” and the “machine-tooled” Natalie Wood was “so perfectly banal she destroys all thoughts of love.”

west side story natalie wood 1

Kael is guilty of overkill. Kauffmann is closer to the mark, especially when he disagrees with Kael about the dancing. Robbins, one of the most original choreographers in Broadway history, at first refused to work on the film unless he could direct it. Producer Walter Mirisch wanted a steady Hollywood hand, and chose Robert Wise, the editor of “Citizen Kane” and a studio veteran. Robbins agreed to direct the dancing, and Wise would direct the drama. And then the problem became that Robbins simply could not stop directing the dancing: “He didn’t know how to say ‘cut,'” one of the dancers remembers in a documentary about the making of the film. Robbins ran up so much overtime he was eventually fired, but his assistants stayed, and all the choreography is his.

west-side-story maria 1

Certainly the dance scenes, so robust, athletic and exhilarating, play differently after you’ve seen the doc. Robbins rehearsed for three months before the shooting began, then revised everything on the locations, sometimes many times. His choreography was so demanding that no scene was ever filmed all the way through, and dancers in the “Cool” number say they never before and never again worked harder on anything. There were injuries, collapses, setbacks.

west side story somewhere maria and tony singing song 1

Look at a brief scene where a gang runs toward a very high chain-link fence, scales it bare-handed, and drops down inside a playground. That’s a job for one stuntman, not a dozen dancers, and we can only guess how many takes it took to make it look effortless and in sync with the music.

west side story maria in tony's arms looking up at him 1

As for the music itself: Usually, says Rita Moreno, dancers work in counts of fours, or sixes, or eights. “Then along comes Leonard Bernstein with his 5/4 time, his 6/8 time, his 25/6 time. It was just crazy. It’s very difficult to dance to that kind of music, because it doesn’t make dancer sense.” And yet Robbins’ perfectionism and Bernstein’s unconventional rhy-thms created a genuinely new kind of movie dancing, and it can be said that if street gangs did dance, they would dance something like the Jets and the Sharks in this movie, and not like a Broadway chorus line.

west-side-story tony and maria kissing on forward 1

The movie was made fresh on the heels of the enormous Broadway success of the musical, and filmed partly on location in New York (it opens on the present site of Lincoln Center), partly on sound stages. There was controversy over the casting of Natalie Wood as Maria (she was not Puerto Rican, her voice was dubbed by Marnie Nixon, she was only a fair dancer) and some indifference to Richard Beymer, whose Tony played more like a leading man than a gang leader. They didn’t get along in real life, we learn, but Wood does project warmth and passion in their scenes together, and a beauty and sweetness that would be with her all through her career.

west side story somewhere maria and tony singing song 1

What shows up Wood and Beymer is the work of Moreno and Chakiris, as the Puerto Rican lovers Anita and Bernardo. Little wonder they won supporting Oscars and the leads did not. Moreno can sing, can dance, and exudes a passion that brings special life to her scenes. For me, the most powerful moments in the movie come when Anita visits Doc’s candy store to bring a message of love from Maria to Tony — and is insulted, shoved around and almost raped by the Jets. That leads her, in anger, to abandon her romantic message and shout out that Maria is dead — setting the engine of Shakespeare’s last act into motion in a way that makes perfect dramatic sense. To study the way she plays in that scene is to understand what Wood’s performance is lacking.

west side story somewhere poster 1

Kael is right about the dialogue. It’s mostly pedestrian and uninspired; it gets the job done and moves the plot along, but lacks not only the eloquence and poetry of Shakespeare, but even the power that a 20th century playwright like O’Neill or Williams would have brought to it. Compare the balcony scene in “West Side Story” with the one filmed six years later by Franco Zeffirelli in “Romeo and Juliet,” and you will find that it is possible to make a box-office hit while still using great language.

west side story tony trying to speak as he is dying maria listening 1

What I loved during “West Side Story,” and why I recommend it, is the dancing itself. The opening finger-snapping sequence is one of the best uses of dance in movie history. It came about because Robbins, reading the screenplay, asked, “What are they dancing about?”

west side story tony in maria's arms he is shot dying 1

The writer Laurents agreed: “You couldn’t have a story about murder, violence, prejudice, attempted rape, and do it in a traditional musical style.” So he outlined the prologue, without dialogue, allowing Robbins to establish the street gangs, show their pecking order, celebrate their swagger in the street, demonstrate their physical grace, and establish their hostility — all in a ballet scored by Bernstein with music, finger-snapping and anger.

west side story b and w even death wont part us now death scene 1

west side story maria over tony dying te adoro anton  1

The prologue sets up the muscular physical impact of all of the dancing, and Robbins is gifted at moving his gangs as units while still making every dancer seem like an individual. Each gang member has his own style, his own motivation, and yet as the camera goes for high angles and very low ones, the whole seems to come together. I was reminded of the physical choreography in another 1961 movie, Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo,” in which a band of samurai move quickly and swiftly through action with a snakelike coordination.

west side story tony is dying te adoro anton 1

west-side-story maria holding tony's dead body 1

So the dancing is remarkable, and several of the songs have proven themselves by becoming standards, and there are moments of startling power and truth. “West Side Story” remains a landmark of musical history. But if the drama had been as edgy as the choreography, if the lead performances had matched Moreno’s fierce concentration, if the gangs had been more dangerous and less like bad-boy Archies and Jugheads, if the ending had delivered on the pathos and tragedy of the original, there’s no telling what might have resulted. The movie began with a brave vision, and it is best when you sense that vision surviving the process by which it was turned into safe entertainment.

west side story at end when maria is confronting both gangs 1

west side story both gangs carrying tony away while maria is kneeling 1

Somewhere — West Side Story — Video Created by Jennifer Kiley

AFI #2 AFI’s Greatest Movie Musicals – West Side Story (1961)

a divider for post no. 5 love fav new one thinner

#7th — Philadelphia Story

Philadelphia_Story_ title

Keep in mind as you read the review, it was written back the the 1940s when The Philadelphia Story was first released. It is a brilliantly funny, well written, well acted film. The cast is filled with three of the best actors of all time, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart. Whether the Lord family are wealthy does not play into the enjoyment you get from watching this film. It is the sheer delight of the interaction between the characters that hold your attention.

Poster - Philadelphia Story, The_02

It is watching the coming to life of Tracy Lord’s emotional connection with people which is fascinating to watch. Also, the knocking off his horse, a bore of a fiance Tracy is expected to marry by the end of the film. So enjoy a review from the time before TV, when movies were the thing to see for entertainment. Studios thought Katherine Hepburn was box office poison.

philadelphia-kate horizontal cary jimmy and ex fiance

One of my pet peeves with that era and now that if you stumble without complete success in everything you do, somehow you are automatically considered a failure. How does one learn what is enjoyable or until they try it out? If it doesn’t work then you try something different. Not everyone can be completely perfect all the time.

The Philadelphia Story cary and kate relaxed at table

Now onto the interview of The Philadelphia Story as seen through the eyes of someone there when it first hit the theatre and when a film stayed in the theatres for years, especially if it was a great film, as The Philadelphia Story is.

The-Philadelphia-Story-classic-movie  painting kate cary jimmy

Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar for his performance. Katherine Hepburn received so many nominations in her lifetime, one of them could have been for this film. No mention of it though. If she didn’t, let me say, she should have. by Jennifer Kiley

the-philadelphia-story-poster-artwork-katharine-hepburn-cary-grant-james-stewartThe Philadelphia Story (1940)
THE SCREEN; A Splendid Cast Adorns the Screen Version
of ‘The Philadelphia Story’ at the Music Hall
Published: December 27, 1940

TPS Shove at beginning of film

All those folks who wrote Santa Claus asking him to send them a sleek new custom-built comedy with fast lines and the very finest in Hollywood fittings got their wish just one day late with the opening of “The Philadelphia Story” yesterday at the Music Hall. For this present, which really comes via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, has just about everything that a blue-chip comedy should have—a witty, romantic script derived by Donald Ogden Stewart out of Philip Barry’s successful play; the flavor of high-society elegance, in which the patrons invariably luxuriate, and a splendid cast of performers headed by Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant. If it doesn’t play out this year and well along into next they should turn the Music Hall into a shooting gallery.

The-Philadelphia-Story-1940-photo spread

It has been a long time since Hollywood has spent itself so extravagantly, and to such entertaining effect, upon a straight upper-crust fable, an unblushing apologia for plutocracy. Money and talent are mostly going these days into elaborate outdoor epics and rugged individualist films.

KatharineHepburn with ex fiance middle cary

It is like old times to see one about the trials and tribulations of the rich, and to have Miss Hepburn back, after a two-year recess, as another spoiled and willful daughter of America’s unofficial peerage, comporting herself easily amid swimming pools, stables and the usual appurtenances of a huge estate.

katherine-and-jimmy working on getting close and getting drunk

For that is what she is—and does—in the Messrs. Stewart’s and Barry’s pleasant dissertation upon a largely inconsequential subject, that subject being the redemption of a rather priggish and disagreeable miss. The writers have solemnly made her out as a frigid and demanding sort of person—one of “a special class of American females: the married maidens”—who has divorced her first husband and is preparing to take unto herself another simply because she doesn’t understand her own psyche.

tps jimmy carrying kate in robes hair wet

But an amusing complication, whereby an ink-smeared journalist and a girl photographer turn up to “cover” her wedding for a “snoop” magazine leads to a strange exposure of her basic hypocrisy, and she remarries the proper man to the proper effect.

tps ex cary jimmy carrying kate in bathrobes

Truthfully, the psychology of the story is as specious as a spiel, and, for all the talk about the little lady being “a sort of high priestess to a virgin goddess,” etc., she is and remains at the end what most folks would call a plain snob. But the way Miss Hepburn plays her, with the wry things she is given to say, she is an altogether charming character to meet cinematically. Some one was rudely charging a few years ago that Miss Hepburn was “box-office poison.” If she is, a lot of people don’t read labels—including us.

KatharineHepburn the morning after getting drunk cary kate jimmy in robes

But she isn’t the only one who gives a brilliant performance in this film. James Stewart, as the acid word-slinger, matches her poke for gibe all the way and incidentally contributes one of the most cozy drunk scenes with Miss Hepburn we’ve ever seen. Cary Grant, too, is warmly congenial as the cast of but undefeated mate, and Ruth Hussey, Virginia Weidler, Roland Young and Mary Nash add much to the merriment.

The Philadelphia Story kate's fiance sends letter to cancel the wedding

Provided you have a little patience for the lavishly rich, which these folk are, you should have great fun at “The Philadelphia Story.” For Metro and Director George Cukor have graciously made it apparent, in the words of a character, that one of “the prettiest sights in this pretty world is the privileged classes enjoying their privileges.” And so, in this instance, will you, too.

philadelphia story b4 wedding cary kate

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY; screen play by Donald Ogden Stewart; based on the play by Philip Barry; directed by George Cukor; produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. At the Radio City Music Hall.

philadelphia story getting photographed by rag mag

Cast of The Philadelphia Story

C. K. Dexter Haven . . . . . Cary Grant
Tracy Lord . . . . . Katharine Hepburn
Macaulay Connor . . . . . James Stewart
Elizabeth Imbrie . . . . . Ruth Hussey
George Kittredge . . . . . John Howard
Uncle Willie . . . . . Roland Young
Seth Lord . . . . . John Halliday
Margaret Lord . . . . . Mary Nash
Dinah Lord . . . . . Virginia Weidler
Sidney Kidd . . . . . Henry Daniell
Edward . . . . . Lionel Pape
Thomas . . . . . Rex Evans

wedding snap shot

The Philadelphia Story [HD] 1941
Starring: Katherine Hepburn-Cary Grant-Jimmy Stewart

whole family at wedding film ends

4 thoughts on “Favorite Top Ten Films of All Time [#8 & #7]

  1. I simply love the way you scrutinize every element of films, and you do so with pizzazz. Your posts are always visually stunning! While I continue to enjoy songs from West Side Story, I had never examined it as you do. Now I find it intriguing that little could match Rita Moreno’s “fierce” portrayal. You are spot on. I completely enjoyed all your insights, Jennifer.


  2. I’ve just realised that I have never seen ‘West Side Story’ I’ve heard a fair bit of the music on tracks etc, but I have never sat down and watched the whole thing! Maybe I should!


    • It is a really moving film. The music is brilliant as you already know. But the lesson on prejudice still is valid today the way illegal aliens are treated today. It is sentimental for me but also it follows my favorite Shakespeare play Romeo & Juliet. Watched the Zeffirelli version of it this past week and West Side Story last week. I knew Leonard Bernstein when I was a kid. He offered to teach me the piano. I was truly an amateur on it. He was so sweet. I feel you will love the relationship between Maria and Tony. I love Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno is uniquely talented in her singing and dancing numbers. I think it is highly dramatic and moves quickly. I would say yes to your wanting to watch it.

      It’s interesting you should have left this comment. I was just thinking about escaping into your book. Hopefully, later tonight I will find the time to read many of the chapters I still have left to read. I have missed your characters, esp. Oscar. Will be sure to leave you comments. Your works is always inspiring. 😎 Jk


  3. Pingback: West Side Story (1961) | timneath

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