14. “Only Angels Have Wings”, Howard Hawks (1939)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list

Only Angels Have Wings

Only Angels Have Wings

dir. Howard Hawks scr. Howard Hawks and Jules Furthman cin. Joseph Walker and Paul Mantz with Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Richard Barthelmess, Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell, Allyn Joslyn, Sig Ruman, Victor Kilian, John Carroll, Don Barry, and Noah Beery, Jr.

In 100 words: The greatest movie of Hollywood’s Golden Age is one that perfectly embodied the American spirit of community and the idealized view of pragmatism, while still retaining a witty sense of humor and a disarming view of tragedy. Like most of his films, Hawks populates this world with characters so engrossed in their work, but have built sturdy brotherly relationships with their coworkers, even when the danger and anxiety of flying airplanes are real and treacherous. In that regard, its existential tension predates the highs of Wages of Fear, while the simmering relationships recall Lubitsch. Lovely precise technical craft, engaging performances. Grant’s finest performance.

Other Movies for Context: Hawks is probably the most underrated of the great directors. I adore almost all of the movies he’s done. I think about Howard Hughes when I think of this movie, and as such, Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004) stands as an interesting flick to watch with this. The workplace as a great location for viewing human relations also has parallels to recent films like Spotlight (2015) or Steve Jobs (2015).

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23. “His Girl Friday”, Howard Hawks (1940)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

His Girl Friday.jpg

His Girl Friday

dir. Howard Hawks scr. Charles Lederer based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur cin. Joseph Walker with Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, and Gene Lockhart

In 100 words: Has there ever been a romantic comedy this tightly constructed and this agile with the comedy and the romance and this serious about its craft and its characters’ development? The peak of its genre, Friday succeeds mostly on the strength of its precise narrative structure, the impeccable design and direction, and the heavy amount of jokes that its characters throw at the speed of light. The physicality of its actors is particularly noteworthy: Grant and Russell both stand alongside the Keatons and Chaplins for their commitment to the sight gags. It even takes journalism seriously! But-gusting hilarity and adorable romance.

Other Movies (well TV) for Context: No rom-com has ever touched this one and it’s hard to do so. It feels like a live-action cartoon, therefore I can only think of two TV shows that instantly remind me of this movie: 30 Rock has the same speed of joke delivery that this one has, but with a kookier sense of humor. Gilmore Girls basically had its cast watch this in order to build their stamina for the fast talk and pop culture they have to throw out there.

93. “Holiday”, George Cukor (1938)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Holiday

Holiday

dir. George Cukor (1938) scr. Donald Ogden Stewart and Sidney Buchman based on the play Holiday (1928) by Philip Barry cin. Franz Planer with. Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant

In 100 words: On the surface, Holiday glows with warmth and effervescence that few films can match. Its cast banters with witty abandon and its magnetic lead stars frolic with acrobatic grace. Its beats may be familiar but the script runs away from the safe and obvious. Yet beneath its joyful exterior, there’s a sad undercurrent nested in its pessimistic view of wealth that makes it different from genre mainstays. Not to mention Cukor directs the hell out of this: precise editing and smart mise en scène reveal characters’ shifting relation to their environment. Hepburn and Grant make a timeless and luminescent couple.

Other Movies for Context: Ah the Golden age of Romantic comedies, back when it was not a toxic genre, was full of interesting films that had something interesting to say about wealth amid the Great Depression. I’m thinking right now of Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937) and especially Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey (1936). The Hepburn-Grant-Cukor-Barry team will make another film that summons the same magic they cast here: The Philadelphia Story (1941). Grant and Hepburn also teamed up for Howard Hawks’ real oddball Bringing Up Baby (1938) too. Among the modern films, look no further than the essential perfectness of Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally (1989), a film I found difficult to leave off this Top 100 list.