Sunday, March 5, 2017

Ten Best Movies From Before 1950

About six months ago I did a ten part blog series in which I revealed my top one hundred favorite movies of all time. I have since grown dissatisfied with the list, not feeling that it accurately reflects my ever changing palate. I have a major problem when it comes to recency bias, the list was filled with movies that I had seen so recently. The problem with this is that as I had not given some of those movies time to marinate, and I realized they didn't measure up to some of the other movies I love so much. So, consider that first blog a first draft. As I am re-figuring my list, I would like to publish my top ten of the decades. So, here is part one: My favorite movies from before 1950. I have chosen to  lump the first three decades of movies into one blog because, to be honest, I don't absolutely love enough movies from these decades to give them their own lists.

So, now that introductions have been introduced and disclaimers have been disclaimed, here are my top ten movies from before 1950.



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10. Snow White (1937)
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Pinocchio, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Moana... These are all movies that would have never existed if not for Walt Disney's magical vision to release the first full length animated feature. This is the OG of animated movies, and from its lineage we have seen some of the best art in world history.

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9. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
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The first anti-war movie ever made, and the third movie to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Director Lewis Milestone has put together a movie that in so many respects feels modern, an astonishing achievement when you consider that the movie is 87 years old. From the epic battle scenes that still feel huge in scope, to the intimate scene in the trench that is still heart wrenching where lead character Paul realizes the humanity in his enemy; All Quiet on the Western Front is has proven itself, like most the movies on this list, to be one for the ages.


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8. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
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It's a Wonderful Life: Politics edition. James Stewart and Frank Capra's second outing together is one that seeks to entertain as well as inspire. In a financially destitute America, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington sought to remind Americans what our country can be when its ideals are fought for on the purest level.


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7. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

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Cary Grant is at his most charming and Katherine Hepburn hits every comedic note. The pacing is excellent, almost every joke sticks the landing, and the movie has aged remarkably well. This enduring classic still feels fresh, even if it helped pioneer a genre that consistently puts out the worst kind of movies today.


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6. The Great Dictator (1940)

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Writer/Director/Star Charlie Chaplain took big risks with The Great Dictator. At the height of World War II he skewers fascism and  dictatorial leaders. The movie contains plenty of the humor that you could expect from a Chaplain picture, but this passion project from it's creator has a very important agenda, and it's all summed up in his moving and consistently relevant monologue at the end.

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5.The Wizard of Oz (1939)
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This game changing movie still holds up at 78 years old as the perfect version of itself. Filled with timeless wonder and fascination, The Wizard Oz allowed depression era Americans to enter a world of dreams and fantasy, and it became a respite for 1930's American weariness. Top it off with charming performances and unforgettable songs, and you have a landmark in American pop culture, one that should not be missed.



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4. The Philadelphia Story(1940)

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I am by no means a rom-com fan, but I am almost always a fan of great art (except Raging Bull... Great art, I hated it.) The Philadelphia Story is a cocktail of laugh a minute dialogue, dynamic chemistry and impeccable performances by the best entertainers of their time (Jimmy Stewart took home his only Oscar for his work here). Full of wit, heart, wisdom and love, The Philadelphia Story a classic in the truest sense of the word


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3.Pinocchio (1940)

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Walt Disney's second trip into feature length animated movies stands near the top of the entrepreneur's long list of accomplishments. This morally astute children's movie is just as heartwarming as it is enchanting. The movie reminds the world that the love we have and the mistakes we make are all a part of what makes us human. All told with breath-taking animation and eternally enduring music, Pinocchio is an all time classic.


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2. Casablanca (1942)

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This war time romantic-drama is about people who faced a possibly devastating future, but who found peace through love and resistance. It's a movie about making the right choice even if it isn't the happy one. It's about sacrifice and hope and always having Paris. It is an undisputed classic, and every part of it, from Michael Curtiz's eye for direction to Humphrey Bogarts layered and understated performance, is absolutely perfect.


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Honorable Mentions

White Heat
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King Kong 
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You Can't Take It With You
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The Maltese Falcon
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It Happened One Night
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Gone With the Wind
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Citizen Kane
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1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

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To call this the best holiday movie ever made is still to understate just how good it is. It transcends the "holiday film" genre. As I've said before, a piece of art can only offer as much hope as it is willing to admit the apparent hopelessness. And despite this being a time capsule movie, in that it doesn't touch the sense of harsh realism later movies do, this doesn't shy away from the substantial hardships that drive our lead character to consider suicide. Once it acknowledges the cruelty, it then offers hope that life can be a wonderful thing when we consider what makes life worth living. Lead by the most iconic performance of Jimmy Stewart's career, and directed to perfection by the legendary Frank Capra, It's a Wonderful Life is easily, in my opinion, the best movie before 1950.




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