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Fictional Presidents You May Not Remember

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Here in the final weekend before the 2012 presidential election, figuring out who will occupy the Oval Office seems all too real. Perhaps a brief respite is in order. To that end, here is a selection of fictional presidents for your politically-overloaded pleasure.

JAMES EARL JONES IN “THE MAN”

In 1972, the idea of a black president made for gripping drama. Here’s the premise for this TV movie that was released as a feature film: the President and Speaker of the House are killed, and the Vice President is in ill health and declines the job. Suddenly, the president pro tempore of the Senate – the great James Earl Jones – is president. What follows is a morality play about racial fears, idealism and political hardball. Guess who wrote the screenplay? Rod Serling.

JEFF BRIDGES IN “THE CONTENDER”

Speaking of political hardball, I greatly enjoyed this 2000 movie that had Jeff Bridges as a wily Commander in Chief. The film was primarily about Joan Allen as a senator being considered for vice president, but Bridges also stood out. Partly it had to do with his cutthroat deal making; partly it was his strange obsession with sandwiches.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN “STAR TREK”

Oh yeah – fictionalized versions of real presidents are still fiction, in my book. Now some of you may prefer “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” or even “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” but to me nothing beats seeing Honest Abe (Lee Bergere) battle bad guys with Kirk and Spock on an alien planet. If you need to know the rationale for this scenario, then you clearly don’t understand the crazy vibe of “Star Trek,” season 3, 1969.

MARTIN SHEEN IN “THE DEAD ZONE”

Please, you didn’t think I was going to use “The West Wing,” did you? This is The Jimbo List, not The Obvious List. Here’s a different sort of Sheen presidency. In 1983’s “The Dead Zone,” based on the Stephen King novel, Sheen is a nutjob Senate candidate. When the movie’s main character, a psychic, touches Sheen’s hand, he sees a vision of a future in which Sheen is president. Let’s just say it isn’t pretty.

FREDRIC MARCH IN “SEVEN DAYS IN MAY”

March had just the right formality and gravitas to ground this 1964 political thriller. He played a U.S. president who dared to negotiate a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets during the Cold War. This, in turn, leads to a potential overthrow of the U.S. government by a mad general. It’s a little melodramatic, in the way movies used to be, but still satisfying.

TERRY CREWS IN “IDIOCRACY”

By no means is this a recommendation of the 2006 comedy, “Idiocracy.” I actually found it a little depressing. But it accurately reflects a fear many people probably have, that our culture is elevating stupidity and celebrity at the expense of essential institutions. Crews, who I generally get a kick out of, is a kick-ass, gun-toting Prez here.

JOHN TRAVOLTA IN “PRIMARY COLORS”

As anyone who saw “Primary Colors” knows, it’s a thinly-veiled look at Bill and Hillary Clinton, complete with habitual womanizing and feel-your-pain empathy. I thought Travolta did a very good job playing a fictional version of someone we all think we understand.

TIMOTHY BOTTOMS IN “THAT’S MY BUSH!”

Remember this 2000 Comedy Central series? It lasted only a couple of months, using George W. Bush as fodder for a merging of sitcom cliches with current events. It was created by the “South Park” guys, and it had plots that included gun control, abortion, wacky neighbors and trying to impress the in-laws.

JACK NICHOLSON IN “MARS ATTACKS!”

The Martians were by far the coolest part of 1996’s “Mars Attacks!” Nicholson, overacting with wild abandon, was front and center as the president in this all-star comedy extravaganza. A few laughs, nothing more.

MARY McDONNELL IN “BATTLESTAR GALACTICA”

Believe it or not, McDonnell was a more realistic president in this TV space opera than many of the other examples on this List. She was pragmatic, deceptive, ruthless and driven. She also happened to be on a space ship.

CHARLES LINDBERGH IN “THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA”

In this 2004 novel, Philip Roth envisions a world in which Charles Lindbergh beats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 election. The country quickly unravels in a frightening spiral of antisemitism. Roth adds his own family members into the alternate history, to great effect.

HENRY FONDA IN “FAIL-SAFE”

The burdens of the presidency weigh heavily on Fonda here, with good reason. There’s been a malfunction on one of our war planes – it’s about to nuke Moscow out of existence. Can we stop it? And if we can’t, what does the president do next?

ROBERT CULP IN “THE PELICAN BRIEF”

Pure potboiler, but lots of fun. Culp gives his supporting role as a villainous president a whiff of Ronald Reagan. He’s grandfatherly and let’s his staff do a lot of the heavy lifting.

KELSEY GRAMMER IN “SWING VOTE”

This somewhat minor 2008 comedy had a presidential election coming down to the vote of one dude out in New Mexico (Kevin Costner) who needed to recast his ballot. Grammer played the sitting president, running for re-election. I include this one mainly because it gives you a sense of what Grammer would bring to his fantastic portrayal of a Chicago mayor in TV’s “Boss.” In both comedy and drama, he’s believable as a powerful politician.

OLD RICHARD NIXON IN “WATCHMEN”

In the movie and comics versions of “Watchmen,” Richard Nixon has remained president right into the 1980s. It’s a chilling and cynical view of politics and public opinion, on a grand scale. With superheroes, of course.

PETER SELLERS IN “DR. STRANGELOVE”

What is it with these fictional 1964 presidents and their phones & nukes? Anyway, I loved Sellers in this role. His president, Merkin Muffley, was a mild-mannered guy handling an international crisis with all the bureaucratic pomposity we’ve come to expect from Washington, D.C. Here’s a typical line: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

So there you have it – a plethora of fictional presidents. Now, back to our regularly scheduled election!

Movie Stars You Forgot Were in a TV Series

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Oh, how quickly we forget. A good many of the actors we’ve come to love on the big screen spent at least part of their career on the little screen. Sometimes it was when they were just starting out, and other times it came much later. Either way, it’s entertaining to see these stars in a different setting.

JIMMY STEWART

It’s hard to picture the great Jimmy Stewart in a TV series, but he actually did two of them! First came “The Jimmy Stewart Show,” 1971-72, in which he played a college professor. Despite tons of publicity, it lasted only one season. He tried again in “Hawkins,” a 1973-74 series about a country lawyer. It fared no better.

SANDRA BULLOCK

Many years before winning her Oscar, Bullock starred in 1990’s TV version of the hit movie “Working Girl.” The show was pulled after a dozen episodes.

CLINT EASTWOOD

Clint, on the other hand, was a TV success story. He played Rowdy Yates on the hit western, “Rawhide.” The show, about the adventures of the longest cattle drive in history, ran from 1959-65. Clint, it should be noted, was not the main character – a situation he would rectify in his subsequent film career.

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO

Leo has been in two series: “Growing Pains,” in 1991; and “Parenthood,” in 1990. It’s unlikely we’ll see him again as a TV regular until his movie success winds down. Which brings us to …

TONY CURTIS

Curtis tried TV twice. He was the star of “McCoy,” a mercifully short-lived drama from 1975-76, and “The Persuaders,” an absolute guilty pleasure from 1971-72. In “The Persuaders,” Tony played a very cool, very American adventurer in England. His co-star was Roger Moore, pre-007.

HALLE BERRY

In 1989, a young Halle Berry was part of “Living Dolls,” a show about a teen modeling agency. That’s a young Leah Remini in the photo, lower right.

BING CROSBY

Yep, Der Bingle did a TV series. But, in keeping with his cool, unruffled image, he didn’t stray far from his comfort zone. In “The Bing Crosby Show,” 1964-65, he played an ex-entertainer who was attempting to lead an ordinary, domestic life with his wife and two kids. As you would expect, his answer to most problems involved singing.

TOM HANKS

Lots of people will remember Hanks from his TV series days, but it’s still amazing to think that a two-time Academy Award winner once starred in a 1980-82 sitcom in which he played a guy named Kip who pretended to be a woman named Buffy – in order to get a decent apartment.

CHARLES BRONSON

Classic movie tough-guy Bronson did multiple tours of duty in TV series. He played an adventurous photographer in “Man With A Camera,” 1958-60; a ranch hand in “Empire,” 1962-63; and leader of a wagon train in “The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters,” 1963-64. In that last one, his character was Linc Murdock, a much more suitable name for him than Jaimie McPheeters (a young Kurt Russell).

DENZEL WASHINGTON

Mr. Washington was an excellent part of the ensemble in one of my favorite shows, “St. Elsewhere,” from 1982-88. The incredible cast also included David Morse, Ed Flanders and, yes, Howie Mandel.

SHIRLEY MacLAINE

“Shirley’s World,” featuring MacLaine as a magazine photographer and writer, had one season only, 1971-72. But it had a real international flavor, with much of the show set in England.

GEORGE C. SCOTT

By far the most interesting TV series work the great Scott did was “East Side/West Side,” 1963-64, in which he played a crusading social worker in New York City. One of his co-stars was Cicely Tyson. Later, Scott did some uneven series work: “Mr. President,” 1987-88, a comedy about a U.S. president; “Traps,” 1994, in which he played a retired cop; and “New York News,” 1995, set at a newspaper.

HENRY FONDA

It was something of a big deal when Fonda starred in “The Smith Family,” a 1971-72 drama about a police detective. What many viewers had forgotten was that Fonda played a marshal in “The Deputy,” from 1959-61.

MICKEY ROONEY

Mickey has done tons of TV during his long career, including at least five series. I’m only going to mention one of them: a 1982 comedy called “One of the Boys,” in which his co-stars were Dana Carvey and Nathan Lane. Now that’s entertainment!

MORGAN FREEMAN

This one’s my favorite. Morgan Freeman, an actor whose work I dearly love in films, also has a place in TV history as a member of “The Electric Company.” This kids’ show from 1971-77 afforded him the chance to play such characters as Dracula and the utterly sublime Easy Reader. Well done, sir.

Well, that gets things started. Which great examples did I forget?

A Menagerie of Memorable Last Films

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Obviously, actors don’t usually know when the final film of their career is coming. If they did, Jimmy Stewart wouldn’t have gone out on “The Magic of Lassie,” and Gene Kelly wouldn’t have said yes to “Xanadu.” But here are some final films that I find particularly memorable.

RICHARD HARRIS

(HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, 2002)

Perhaps it was his reputation as a scalawag intermingling with the role, but I always thought Harris imbued Dumbledore with a deep sense of danger and mystery, beyond the plot of the movie. This is by no means a slap at the work of Michael Gambon, who took over the part in subsequent Harry Potter films.

HEATH LEDGER

(THE DARK KNIGHT, 2008)

Purists may argue this wasn’t his last film, since he did appear later in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.” To my thinking, however, “Imaginarium” wasn’t a full performance and shouldn’t be considered as such. His Joker, on the other hand – that was a complete performance. And an amazing one, too.

MARILYN MONROE & CLARK GABLE

(THE MISFITS, 1961)

Such an odd twosome, yet it worked here. What’s more, these were fitting roles for their last film: he’s full of craggy, manly force and she’s a volcano of vulnerability.

PAUL ROBESON

(TALES OF MANHATTAN, 1942)

This selection requires some explanation. It’s an episodic film about how a fancy suit with tails comes into various lives and has some unusual effect. Some parts of it are quite good, but then we get to the great performer Robeson’s episode. He’s a poor rural farmer who finds the suit, which is full of money. Robeson came to see his role in this film as playing into an African American stereotype and spoke out vehemently against it. He never acted in another film.

HENRY FONDA

(ON GOLDEN POND, 1981)

Fonda ended a fine movie career with this emotional crowd pleaser, which he knocked out of the park. Of course, he was helped nicely by Katharine Hepburn and his daughter, Jane. The old poop got an Oscar for it, too.

INGRID BERGMAN

(AUTUMN SONATA, 1978)

What a lucky break for serious movie fans that Ingrid Bergman, one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen, got to end her career this way. She’s a high-achieving pianist who has a soul-searching visit with her two grown daughters. Ingmar Bergman wrote and directed.

RICHARD BURTON

(NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, 1984)

Burton is simply terrific as the intense interrogator, O’Brien, in this version of George Orwell’s famous novel of humanity amid totalitarianism. Those eyes, that voice…

WILLIAM POWELL

(MISTER ROBERTS, 1955)

As the ship doctor aboard a cargo vessel in World War II, Powell had a chance here to hint at all the things that had made him a great leading man from the silent era right on through the Depression. He was wise, he was funny and he was on the side of the angels.

MADGE SINCLAIR

(THE LION KING, 1994)

So what if it’s an animated film? Madge Sinclair was a class act, and her vocal performance helped give “The Lion King” deep emotional resonance. She played Simba’s mom.

PETER FINCH

(NETWORK, 1976)

Iconic part in an iconic movie. Finch was the crazed, network anchorman Howard Beale, whose deranged antics on camera proved to be a sage warning of things to come in our profit-obsessed culture of today. He was “mad as hell,” and so were we.

JAMES DEAN

(GIANT, 1956)

This is a big, melodramatic story about rival Texas ranchers fighting over money and women. Dean plays a guy named, I kid you not, Jett Rink. Also starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, “Giant” is full to bursting with 1950s hubris.

JEAN ARTHUR

(SHANE, 1953)

Among other things, “Shane” was about people wishing their lives were different, yet sticking with the roles the world handed them. Jean Arthur’s character, a frontier wife and mom who may or may not be in love with noble gunslinger Shane, was no different. Arthur was one of the best comic actresses of her era, yet she played this role completely straight.

RANDOLPH SCOTT

(RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, 1962)

The modern Western film began right here. Scott and Joel McCrea play former partners who must take a shipment of gold through some sketchy territory. Turns out Scott is kind of sketchy, too. This movie was directed by Sam Peckinpah, and he loaded it up with incredible dialogue and visuals that spoke to growing old in a changing landscape.

WOODY STRODE

(THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, 1995)

He only appears at the beginning of the film, but I love Woody Strode so I put him on this List anyway. He’s the local coffin maker in a freaky Western town where the head honcho (a smirking Gene Hackman) holds a gunfighting contest that includes Russell Crowe, Sharon Stone, Leonardo DiCaprio and a cast of thousands.

SPENCER TRACY

(GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?, 1967)

Thankfully, society has changed enough to make this film seem more and more dated. At the time, though, it was a big deal. Tracy is an elderly dad whose daughter is planning to marry an African American man. The big scene comes toward the end of the film, when Tracy gives a speech about the enduring, sustaining nature of love.

WILLIAM HOLDEN

(S.O.B., 1981)

Good as he was in his younger days, I’ve always liked Holden’s later work best. In “S.O.B,” he satirizes the Hollywood movie industry very effectively. The 1980s had to have seemed insane to people who came of age in the 1940s and ’50s.

BURT LANCASTER

(FIELD OF DREAMS, 1989)

They just don’t make movie stars like this guy anymore. Lancaster appeared to relish every second of his career, playing good guys, bad guys, pirates, acrobats, prison convicts, soldiers, mobsters, preachers and lawmen. The gleam was still in his eyes as Doc “Moonlight” Graham, in Kevin Costner’s baseball fantasy. There’s one scene here, where the camera sweeps around to catch a big close-up of Burt’s face, that plays now like his farewell to movies. Beautiful.

So tell me, what are your favorite final films?

Calling All Movie Fans – Best Phones in Films

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Phone technology may have changed wildly over the past 100 years – from those nutty handsets that looked like metal daffodils to today’s sleek cells – but it hasn’t stopped screenwriters and directors from putting phones front and center at key moments in the action. Here are some of my favorite movie phone moments.

THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL (1939)

Might as well start with the birth of the telephone. Don Ameche does his able best as inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who makes the first successful phone call when he spills a chemical on his lap and inadvertently phones his assistant, Mr. Watson (Henry Fonda),  in another room.

HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)

This is more like it. In one of the best films of all time, Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant play fast-talking newshounds who make a row of old phones look like cutting-edge technology. They swing those handsets around like samurai swords, carrying on multiple conversations at lightning speed.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart played one of the most romantic phone scenes in movie history here, when they shared an earpiece and receiver. Makes you wonder how many potential relationships have been spoiled by speakerphone.

DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954)

A fateful phone call is the centerpiece of  Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant thriller. A devious husband (Ray Milland) has blackmailed a thug to murder his unfaithful wife (Grace Kelly). The murder is set to  take place when the wife answers the phone, except …

PILLOW TALK (1959)

This silly film about gender politics and double identities grows sillier and more odd with each passing year. That said, it is undeniably iconic in its look and sensibility – including its enthusiastic use of the split-screen phone call.

FAIL-SAFE (1964)

This, for a generation, was the ultimate phone call: The one between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. that would determine whether global nuclear war would occur. Our old friend Fonda plays the American president who must come to terms with the Soviet premier as warheads threaten the world. What’s terrific here is the cold, unfeeling vibe the phone itself exudes.

ANNIE HALL (1977)

Amid the many killer jokes in “Annie Hall,” Woody Allen includes two great phone bits. One is the way Tony Roberts keeps calling his office to tell his “people” where he can be reached. The other is Jeff Goldblum’s cameo as a guy calling his therapist because he can’t remember his mantra.

THE VERDICT (1982)

What an incredible actor Paul Newman was. I’ve watched this film many times and I always marvel at Newman’s total commitment as a washed-up attorney with one last chance at redemption. Much of the character’s desperation comes through in phone calls. Not only that, but the entire movie hinges on – wait for it – a phone bill. Swear to God. And there’s a ringing phone in the final scene that is absolutely haunting.

LOCAL HERO (1983)

Movies don’t come any sweeter than director Bill Forsyth’s story of an American oil company stooge (Peter Riegert) who is sent to purchase an entire Scottish fishing village in order to build a refinery. Scotland here is a magical realm, and the only connection to the corrupt, wider world is this little phone booth.

WALL STREET (1987)

Far from a great movie, but it speaks strongly to a particular American era. Never before, and never after, would you see those dopey, gigantic mobile phones.

GOODFELLAS (1990)

For another view of phone booths, check out Martin Scorsese’s mob masterpiece (okay, ONE of his mob masterpieces). Robert DeNiro beats the crap out of this phone booth, after getting some sad news about poor Joe Pesci.

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992)

It’s kind of a perfect, profane time capsule of great writing and acting. David Mamet’s penetrating drama about shabby real estate salesmen just oozes with delusion and deception. All the icky sales calls are just icing on a rancid cake.

SCREAM (1996)

Give Drew Barrymore her due. She nailed this scene in the ironic/iconic  horror flick “Scream.” Tell me it didn’t give you a chill when Ghostface asked, “What’s your favorite scary movie?”

THE MATRIX (1999)

Let me be clear. I love “The Matrix.” Love it. But there’s something hilarious and crazy about the way so much of this film revolved around trying to find a decent landline.

PHONE BOOTH (2002)

The third of our phone booth trilogy, this one I think does a great job of using phone technology to make a point about how exposed we feel as individuals in an increasingly-watchful society. Then again, I could be way off. It’s a Colin Farrell thriller, after all.

THE DEPARTED (2006)

To me, this is the best use of the modern phone in a major film. Another Scorsese mob picture (this one set in Boston), it allows its characters to use their cell phones just as often as real people do. There’s even texting! But you know what I liked most? The way Jack Nicholson’s mob boss opened and closed his cell in an aggressive manner that completely mirrored his King Of All Men attitude.

So those are my picks. What are yours? This is The Jimbo List, signing off.

25 Great Movie Exit Lines

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Like the last bite of pie or the end of a great novel, the final line of a movie can be a beautiful thing. It sends you on your way satisfied and just a little sorry the experience is over. Here are some of my favorites.

SHANE (1953)

“Shane! Come back! Bye, Shane.”

As you might guess, this line is shouted by a little boy as gunslinger Shane rides off in the distance, never to return. Is the kid’s plaintive cry annoying? Yes. But it absolutely works because you know how he feels; you feel the same way.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

“There’s no place like home.”

In a timeless classic full of timeless lines, this is one of the best. Corny, but great.

THE CANDIDATE (1972)

“What do we do now?”

Here, the final sentence of the film is also the whole point of the story. It’s as true now as it was in ’72.

BABE (1995)

“That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

This oddly beguiling movie, full of fun, fantasy and food for thought, ends in the perfect way: A heartfelt affirmation between a man and his pig.

EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK) (1972)

“Attention, gonads, we’re going for a record.”

Unquestionably, the winner of the “Unlikeliest Final Words of a Movie” sweepstakes. Also, the best pairing of Tony Randall and Burt Reynolds EVER.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)

“You’re next!”

By the time Kevin McCarthy gets all up in your grill with this warning, the movie already has worked its terrifying mojo. Be sure to check the basement for pods before bed.

GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

“After all, tomorrow is another day!”

Confession time, folks. This makes the List for me not because I love it, but because I’ve always been amazed at the nerve it took to end such a sprawling, high-profile film this way. Kind of like the end of “The Sopranos.”

APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

“The horror. The horror.”

Nothing is easy about “Apocalypse Now” – not the lighting, not the sound, not the surreal dialogue. Yet the cumulative power of the whole experience, including the final words, is immense.

THE SEARCHERS (1956)

“Let’s go home, Debbie.”

What’s remarkable about this ending is that you’d never have predicted it.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)

“As you wish.”

The great Peter Falk delivers the goods with a perfect twinkle in his eye. I have serious questions about anyone who doesn’t like this movie.

THE PRODUCERS (1968)

“We open in Leavenworth Saturday night!”

A zany movie HAS to end with a big punchline. Thanks Mel. Thanks Zero. Thanks Gene.

THE PLAYER (1992)

“Traffic was a bitch.”

The biting satire of this last line wraps up the movie in a sarcastic little bow.

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Matched with the visual of Gloria Swanson in full nutjob mode, the final line is wonderfully creepy.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)

“He would be in Jem’s room all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”

This one’s kind of a cheat, because of the incredible source material. It doesn’t get better than Harper Lee.

ARMY OF DARKNESS (1993)

“Hail to the king, baby.”

I love this line. It’s got that Elvis-kicks-an-alien’s-ass-in-the-parking-lot kind of vibe, just like the rest of the film.

MAGNUM FORCE (1973)

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Fittingly, this has become one of Clint Eastwood’s many iconic lines. It’s both spare and ironic.

SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)

“Well, nobody’s perfect!”

How do you finish one of the wittiest, most absurd blockbusters in film history? With a line that’s witty and absurd, naturally.

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (1999)

“Goodnight, you princes of Maine. You kings of New England.”

Hokey, to be sure, but you have to admit this recurring line has a certain lilt.

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

In this case, the last words pull double duty. They need to leave you wanting to see the sequel. Mission accomplished, Doc.

KING KONG (1933)

“It was Beauty killed the Beast.”

Who knew Fay Wray could have this kind of effect?

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (2009)

“Nice to meet you. I’m Autumn.”

Of course this is the last line of this smart little movie. How could it not be?

THE APARTMENT (1960)

“Shut up and deal.”

Looking back at this one through the lens of “Mad Men,” the end line is exquisite – all about longings that find their expression in loaded language.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)

“I hope.”

I could listen to Morgan Freeman’s concluding narration a hundred times. Oh, wait. I already have.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940)

“And we’ll go on forever, Pa, cause we’re the people.”

What’s important to me is that even though the film ends much differently than Steinbeck’s brilliant novel, it still carries the same message of faith in human perseverance against all odds.

CASABLANCA (1942)

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Does that line sing or what? Not only is it true to Bogie’s character, it pretty well sums up a whole generation of tough, duty-driven people. Compared to “Casablanca,” most movie exit lines aren’t worth a hill of beans.

That’s my two cents, ladies and gents. Feel free to add yours.

Good Guys Gone Bad

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Want to know what’s really scary? It’s when an actor normally associated with good-guy roles decides to go bad. In fact, it adds a whole other dimension to the badness. These are some of my favorites.

DENZEL WASHINGTON IN “TRAINING DAY” (2001)

Washington’s performance as corrupt Det. Alonzo Harris is full of explosive, confident power. By turns witty and violent, it’s a role that builds to a crescendo of creepiness. It also won Washington an Oscar.

HENRY FONDA IN “ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST” (1968)

The guy who played Tom Joad, young Abe Lincoln and the old dude from “On Golden Pond” is a very bad man. He’s a revelation, actually, playing a hired killer in this Sergio Leone western. Fonda exudes the same patient intelligence here that he does to all his movies, but in the service of greed.

CHRISTIAN BALE IN “AMERICAN PSYCHO” (2000)

When Bale commits to a part, he goes all the way. In this gory tale, he’s a rich banker with a taste for blood. Remember the crazy eyes Bale brought to “The Fighter” last year? Just add a dash of sociopathic glee and you’ve got “American Psycho.”

ROBERT MITCHUM IN “NIGHT OF THE HUNTER” (1955) AND “CAPE FEAR” (1962)

One of the all-time greats, Robert Mitchum gives a surreal performance in “Night of the Hunter,” as an insane preacher who stalks a pair of children in an attempt to find some hidden cash. Equally creepy is his Max Cady in “Cape Fear,” in which an ex-con takes revenge on the lawyer who put him in jail. There’s a terrifying scene in which Mitchum sneaks aboard a houseboat where the lawyer’s wife (Polly Bergen) is hiding. Gives me the chills.

RUSSELL CROWE IN “3:10 TO YUMA” (2007)

Here’s a classic example of an actor having more fun in the villain role. Crowe plays Ben Wade, a charismatic outlaw being escorted to the train that will take him to jail. It’s a part that is full of guile, humor and perceptiveness.

PAUL NEWMAN IN “HUD” (1963)

Towering performance by Newman in one of his best movies. Hud Bannon is a selfish, flawed, petty man who never fails to hurt those around him in a small, Texas town. Yet he’s absolutely electric and able to manipulate people who ought to know better than trust him. Nobody played simmering resentment better than Newman.

MORGAN FREEMAN IN “STREET SMART” (1987)

A lot of people haven’t seen this movie, yet it’s the reason Freeman became a prominent film actor. He played a New York City pimp named Fast Black who threw a good scare into Christopher Reeve’s character, and the audience.

HARRISON FORD IN “WHAT LIES BENEATH” (2000)

It certainly seemed as if Ford relished this opportunity to be menacing rather than macho. I won’t give away any plot details, other than to say this is a “things that go bump in the night” flick, and Ford is responsible for some of the bumps.

BURT LANCASTER IN “THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS” (1957) AND “SEVEN DAYS IN MAY” (1964)

Speaking of macho, there’s the always-intense Burt Lancaster. In “Sweet Smell of Success” he’s a sadistic, powerful newspaper columnist (go figure), and in “Seven Days in May” he’s an egomaniacal general trying to overthrow the government. Either way, you don’t want to cross him.

TOM HANKS IN “ROAD TO PERDITION” (2002)

This one might need an asterisk. Yes, Hanks plays a hit man during the Depression. Yes, he does dastardly deeds. But he spends much of the movie trying to protect his young son, so you’re still kind of rooting for him.

BEN STILLER IN “DODGEBALL” (2004)

What, you thought comedies didn’t have any good guys gone bad? Think again. Stiller is a wonderful sleazebag as evil gym owner White Goodman, who tries to ruin Vince Vaughn.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER IN “BATMAN AND ROBIN” (1997)

Pretty much everyone hated this movie, and I’m fine with that. But Arnold was masterfully campy as Mr. Freeze, like it or not. And his accent worked here, for once.

GREGORY PECK IN “THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL” (1978)

On the other hand, I am not as enamored of this performance. Why is it on the List? Because of its incredible hubris, friends. “The Boys from Brazil” asks us to belief Atticus Finch – ATTICUS FINCH – as Nazi monster Dr. Josef Mengele. That’s a tough one, Scout.

DON CHEADLE IN “OUT OF SIGHT” (1998)

This is what a good actor Cheadle is. Despite being so small of stature, he’s utterly convincing as a career criminal capable of sudden violence. He has the ability to play smart, funny and realistic all at once, while still being frightening. Terrific movie, by the way.

DICK VAN DYKE IN “NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM” (2006)

Not an extremely big role, but come on. This is Rob Petrie. This is Bert from “Mary Poppins.” And he’s just so … mean.

HEATH LEDGER IN “THE DARK KNIGHT” (2008)

Here’s our big finish and justifiably so. Ledger took an iconic character, the Joker, and transformed him into something both original and exciting. This is a great movie and Ledger is the best thing in it. You can’t take your eyes off of him, first of all. What’s more, he’s hilarious. And mysterious. And malevolent.

That’s all, folks. So who did I leave out?

6 Films That Show the Best and Worst of America

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There are great movies that show America at its best (“Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Singin’ in the Rain”) and great movies that show America at its worst (“Citizen Kane,” “GoodFellas”). Here are some great movies that show both.

 

12 Angry Men

 

 

Every person serving jury duty today should be required to watch this masterpiece from 1957. It represents the triumph of objective, thoughtful citizens over the forces of bigotry and disinterest in society. Yet just as clearly, it also shows how powerful those negative forces are in the American judicial system.

 

 

The Right Stuff

 

 

With its stirring music, imagery and subject matter, you might think Philip Kaufman’s film adaptation of the Tom Wolfe book about the first years of the space program is altogether positive. But it’s not. It carefully weaves in elements of mass media idiocy, political idiocy and individual idiocy that are just as much a part of the American fabric as heroism and ingenuity.

 

 

American History X

 

 

Edward Norton is riveting in a central performance as a young man who becomes a white supremacist and later tries to change his ways. Always intelligent and unsparing, this movie somehow also gives off a vibe that harkens back to the dramas of the 1950s. Shout-out to the very talented Avery Brooks, in this scene with Norton.

 

 

All the President’s Men

 

 

Despite all the political scandals since Watergate, all the failings of the press that have come to light, and even the fact that we now know the identity of Deep Throat, this movie still amazes. In America, a couple of scribes knocking on doors and making phone calls can take on a corrupt government and bring its misdeeds into the light of public scrutiny.

 

 

Moscow on the Hudson

 

 

Paul Mazursky’s comedy about a Russian defector who comes to New York, starring Robin Williams, is underrated. It’s an upbeat comedy, to be sure, but it also offers commentary on American consumer culture, the brutal nature of capitalism and the difficulty many immigrants encounter.

 

 

The Grapes of Wrath

 

 

You can’t watch this film, based on John Steinbeck’s classic novel of Depression-era America, and not feel sick over how often the working poor in this country take it on the chin. It’s a punishing, intractable poverty that by rights should break the American spirit. But it doesn’t – not then and not now. I’ll leave you with Henry Fonda’s “I’ll be there” speech and wish you a happy and healthy July 4 weekend.