8. Gone with the Wind
Adapting Margaret Mitchell’s classic Civil War novel could not have been easy. The ultimate romantic epic, “Gone with the Wind” is a nearly four-hour long film (and an iconic blockbuster smash) in which spoiled southern belle Scarlett O’Hara ruthlessly strives to make it through the Civil War while trying to obtain the heart of the man she loves.
Scarlett O’Hara is arguably the greatest heroin in cinema history and her story makes it very clear as to why. Despite its length, the plot in “Gone with the Wind” never once feels like it’s dragging or wasting time, mainly because every part of the story is a building block that turns Scarlett from a spoiled brat to a shrewd businesswoman. Her transition is a lengthy one, but the significance of everything she does to get to where she ends up is so beautifully structured that it’s hard to imagine it presented in any other way.
7. It Happened One Night
Widely known as the original rom-com, one might somewhat resent Frank Capra’s masterpiece for the endless tripe that subsequently riddled the genre with sentimental clichés. But anyone who’s familiar with Capra’s work knows that this story of an undercover reporter trying to get a story on a runaway heiress by tagging along with her on her journey will far surpass expectations.
It really says something about the power of Robert Riskin’s indescribably charming script that a movie made over 75 years ago still feels fresh today, while romantic comedies released today often feel as though they were made 75 years ago. “It Happened One Night” offers the most intelligent brand of humor, mixing witty dialogue with screwball situations that make every part of its romantic plot feel realistic despite its absurdities and, to a certain extent, because of these absurdities.
6. All the President’s Men
William Goldman’s script was one of the most memorable to tackle the Nixon administration and its Watergate scandal. The story follows destined-to-become famous journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as the duo investigates the events in question, only to find their attempts constantly thwarted and their personal and professional lives becoming suspiciously troublesome.
The premise is hardly original, but the execution is near-perfect. “All the President’s Men” is an adrenaline-pumping thriller, but it’s also a thorough examination of the way news stories are covered. Goldman doesn’t simply take his audience through a scandal in American history; he enlightens them as to what it really means to expose a truth that is far greater than most of us can handle.
Woodward and Bernstein make an effective team, and though each one has his own set of skills that complements the other’s, both men share a mutual determination and a sense of urgency that brings their fateful search all the way to the finish line.
5. The Godfather
The first of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful trilogy, “The Godfather” is arguably the best of the three, but both it and its sequel have fervent supporters. The first film focuses on Don Vito Corleone, the patriarch of the Corleone crime family as he is forced to confront the heads of the other families while his youngest son Michael slowly takes over his reign.
Coppola brings his audience into a world with which it is not too familiar, giving us a thrilling behind-the-scenes look into the life of a mobster who is also a family man. Each element of the Italian crime family, from its expressions to its customs and traditions, is seamlessly woven into a tale of power, corruption, honor and betrayal that provides a fresh perspective on what it means to make it to the top and the price you pay to get there.
Such a world might seem inaccessible to those who have no knowledge of it, but Coppola’s riveting script makes sure that the differences between the viewer’s world and that of his characters never overshadows the unmistakable similarities that motivate their many crimes and sins.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird
Screenwriter Horton Foote’s version of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” had a high standard to live up to given the incredible source material. Thankfully, however, he pulled it off with flying colors, turning Lee’s Depression-era novel of a young Alabama girl whose father defends a black man accused of rape into a screen adaptation that – much like Lee’s novel – will stand the test of time and forever remain a classic.
Nothing in Lee’s novel is lost in the film, but much is certainly gained. Foote perfectly captures the quaintness of his protagonist’s rural town, a setting where everyone knows everything there is to know about everyone else. But while so few actually use that knowledge to form a fair assessment of those they claim they know, Atticus Finch’s refusal to comply with such cruel judgements and stereotyping turns him into one of the greatest heroes of American cinema.
His work as a lawyer is woven into his role as a father and vice versa, as his attempt to teach those around him about what’s right and what’s wrong is a crucial part of what makes him so perfect at both jobs. Foote turns Atticus into an almost mythical figure, a strong silent type whose words are chosen very carefully to evoke the wisdom and compassion that he comes to personify.
3. The Godfather Part II
The second in Coppola’s masterful trilogy, “The Godfather Part II” stands as one of the only sequels to match – if not surpass – its predecessor. While the original detailed the life of Vito Corleone just before his death, the second film tackles Vito Corleone’s origin story while simultaneously following Michael through his own criminal activities, as he has now become the new Don.
Origin stories are a dime a dozen nowadays, but none have been as pertinent and crucial as this one. Coppola handles his flashback sequences with powerful effect, making the contrast between Vito and Michael frighteningly evident.
The melancholy nature of Vito’s actions that led to his own downfall in the first film are now drastically highlighted in the second, as his desire for a better life for his family has turned out to be the very opposite of what he had originally intended. The true genius of the script is ultimately its ability to tie both films together while still remaining a grand achievement all on its own.
2. All About Eve
“All About Eve” features the most definitive performance in Bette Davis’ illustrious acting career. That’s a fact that is far from surprising given the content of the film, which places the notoriously spirited actress in the role of Margo Channing, an aging diva of the theater who takes in a young protégé before quickly discovering this younger woman is after both her career and her beau.
The plot may sound like some sort of campy soap opera, but such a simplistic interpretation would be almost criminal given the depth Mankiewicz gives his characters. The script goes far beyond the desire for fame, using its leading ladies to delve into a much more profound theme of female insecurity.
Watching these women (and their men) interact with one another leads not only to some of the most biting repartee in film, but also to the most well-developed female characters that even contemporary cinema has yet to match. Told from the varying perspectives of the film’s eclectic set of characters, the plot is structured in a way where neither of the two women is ever in the same position at once.
When Margo is at the top, Eve is scraping her through the bottom; when Eve slowly starts to climb, Margo self-destructs; when Margo gets her happy ending, Eve is miserable and alone. They’re never in the same position at the same time because each one is after the exact same thing, and neither feels as though they can afford to share it. And while Margo sees Eve as an enemy and a competitor, the devastating climax proves that the latter is in many ways just a younger version of the former.
There’s so little left to say about “Casablanca,” and that’s especially true when discussing its incomparable screenplay. The most romantic film of all time takes us into the woeful existence of cynical casino owner Rick Blaine as he discovers the resistance leader he needs to help escape Morocco during the Second World War is the man who is now with the love of his life.
Philip and Julius Epstein somehow managed to make the script for “Casablanca” seem so effortless, as if every unforgettable line was so easy to concoct. But aside from the dialogue that whisks its audience into a romantic era that may have only existed in the movies, there is also the tragic inner conflict that Rick must endure.
No film has stakes as high as those in “Casablanca,” stakes where the protagonist has to sacrifice the most beautiful love to ever exist for the greater good. It’s a shattering ending to say the least, but one that nevertheless gives this brooding tale of a war-torn romance an element of hope.
The fact that Rick passes himself as a cynic whose behaviour is initially completely self-serving makes the film’s climax that much more rewarding. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter that guy doesn’t get the girl; “Casablanca” makes its audience forget about the war and all the loss that comes with it just long enough to make them yearn for a similar love story of their own.
Author Bio: Ziyad Saadi is a writer, director and producer based in NYC. After having received his Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Concordia University in Montreal, he moved to New York where he produced the independent feature film Bag Boy Lover Boy. In addition to his work in filmmaking, he has also written for a number of publications including Indiewire, The Independent and The Gay & Lesbian Review.