Several seasons ago Bill O’Reilly, of TV’s The Factor (Fox News Channel), gave viewers a list of his five top films of all time. (It isn’t clear to me whether he meant greatest films or just his own favorite films.)
O’Reilly’s number 1 choice was The Godfather II (1974). New York Times movie reviewer Vincent Canby, “for a quarter century America’s most prominent ‘make-or-break’ critic,” as The Nation‘s Stuart Klowans spoke of him, described the film as “a Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from left over parts [from The Godfather I].” His review gets even more critical, but enough.
Midnight Cowboy, Oscar’s selection as the best picture of 1969, came in as number 3 for O’Reilly. Critic Canby described the film’s co-protagonist, Joe Buck ( played by Jon Voight), as “a little boy whose knowledge of life was learned in front of a TV set while his grandmother…lived with a series of cowboy-father images for Joe.” Canby added, “It’s not a movie for the ages.”
As his number 2 selection, O’Reilly chose a film about the Holocaust, Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993). “Dark, sobering…Schindler’s List will make terrifying sense to anyone, anywhere,’ wrote New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin. Not so for several Baptist clergymen, who were offended by nonsexual nudity shown in the movie. In one scene, concentration-camp inmates were forced to stand naked in a courtyard, lined up in rows, while the camp’s commandant proceeded down between the rows shooting prisoners in the head with his pistol, alternating to his right and then to his left, splattering blood in every direction. Garden-of-Eden modesty was not on the director’s mind, as it was on the minds of the Baptist critics.
Platoon (1986), considered by many the “best” film about the Vietnam war, was O’Reilly’s number 4 pick. Others choose Hamburger Hill (1987) and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) as the best from that era.
I would go with Kubrick, my classmate at William Howard Taft High School in The Bronx, New York, during the early 1940s. My brother was editor of the Taft Review at the time, and Kubrick was his sports photographer.
Casablanca (1942), voted the all-time favorite movie in most polls, was ranked number 5 by O’Reilly. When Casablanca came out in 1942, its co-star Ingrid Bergman referred to it as “the little film.” She was also working on Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and considered For Whom to be a shoe-in for an Oscar. However,Casablanca turned out to be the Best Picture of 1942.
Naturally, wth only 5 selections, O’Reilly has bypassed many a film classic. But not to include at least one of the “giant three” — Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Doctor Zhivago!
Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), the thinly veiled biography of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, has been top-ranked by the American Film Institute for half a century. Movie critic Roger Ebert considered Citizen Kane the greatest movie ever made (noting that Casablanca is more loved).
Given his strong Catholic background — parochial school, private Catholic boys high school, undergraduate eduction at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY (founded as a seminary by the Marist Brothers, a Catholic congregation) — it’s surprising O’Reilly didn’t include a single religious film among his five. There certainly are a number of such classics to choose from — Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956), Franco Zeffirelli’s Anglo-Italian TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977), et cetera.
O’Reilly was born in 1949, and only one of his five selections, Casablanca, predated his birth. The other four belong to his “time.” One thing that characterizes post-World War II generations — the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y or the Millennials — is how they belong exclusively to their own time.
Thus, it’s not surprising that O’Reilly missed the definitive movie about World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of the war. It was the first talkie (that’s how talking pictures were referred to in the ’30s) war film to win Oscars, for Best Picture and Best Director (Lewis Milestone). Modern movie-maker Steven Spielberg acknowledged Milestone’s cinematic influence when he made Saving Private Ryan.
The World War II years had their share of eminent films. Mrs. Miniver (1942), starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, won 6 Oscars, including Best Picture. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) garnered 7 Oscars, one of which was for Best Picture. The film was based on a novella, Glory for Me (1945), by MacKinlay Kantor, written in blank verse, and was adapted for the screen by playwright and screenwriter Robert Sherwood. Hollywood had exceptionally talented screenwriters in those days, major writers of the Great Depression years who had migrated to Movieland to earn a living.
Even The Young Lions (1958), based on Irwin Shaw’s powerful 1949 World War II novel of the same title (starring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Dean Martin), was a more compelling film, for me, than O’Reilly’s number 2 pick, Platoon.
All in all, now equipped with a more panoramic view of filmdom, perhaps O’Reilly and the many Godfather II enthusiasts will consider the possibility that there may be films to rival their number 1 choice.
As appealing as Godfather II‘s leading character, the sartorially elegant family man Michael Corleone may be, he is nevertheless an inglorious mafioso murderer.
If it pains Michael Corleone fans to have their “hero” labeled a sociopath, perhaps they will be mollified to hear him referred to as a well-mannered young man with superego lacunae — holes in his conscience.
Corleone is listed as the 11th most despicable movie villain in the American Film Institute’s ranking system of such characters, which, no doubt to the relief of his devotees, at least places him some distance from numbers 1 and 2, Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates.
Rounding out the American Film Institute’s’ top five villains are Darth Vader, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The AFI also publishes a list of movie heroes. The top five are: Atticus Finch, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Rick Blaine, and Will Kane. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid together are number 20 on the list, ahead of number 21, Mahatma Gandhi. You would think that a pair of sociopaths like Butch and Sundance — to be politically correct so as not to offend any soft-hearted moviegoers, I will refer to them as nice guys with superego lacunae — would be in the other list (where at number 20 they would be between Captain Bligh and Mrs. Iselin of The Manchurian Candidtate). How the public loves its celluloid miscreants, evildoers, and scoundrels!