by Cale Johnson
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Paul Newman is one of my favorite actors, and in this film he stars as ‘Cool Hand’ Lucas Jackson, a rebellious loner sent to prison to work on a chain gang for a drunken act of vandalism. Luke’s carefree independent demeanor quickly begins to clash against the strict rules and structure required of prison life. Uncompromising to a fault, Luke refuses to let anyone get the best of him or bend to perceived injustices inflicted upon him, no matter the cost.
Cool Hand Luke is filled with many iconic scenes such as the futile boxing match with rival inmate Dragline, the 50 egg challenge, and the warden’s ‘failure to communicate’ the importance of following his strict set of rules to Luke. For anyone who has ever felt trapped by the system and wanted to fight back for their beliefs, Luke is their heroic embodiment of those values. No walls or chains can stop him from living life by his own rules and to never give up fighting for what he believes. Newman carries this film with such charisma and charm it will have you wondering why you’ve never given this movie a chance before.
The Graduate (1967)
Never had a film with such a slightly ambiguous and somewhat uncomfortable ending created such a stark, poignant, and culturally relevant social commentary on the current state of America’s youth quite like the closing moments of Mike Nichol’s The Graduate did. Dustin Hoffman stars as Benjamin Braddock, an awkward and disillusioned youth recently graduated from college but lacking purpose or the personal drive to take the next step in his life.
That is until the wife of his father’s business partner Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) draws Benjamin into a steamy secret love affair. The situation becomes even more complicated when Benjamin falls for Mrs. Robinson’s daughter and becomes determined to win her heart. The birth of films specifically targeting youth culture, The Graduate was the first film to use current pop music for its soundtrack (Simon and Garfunkel), as odd as that sounds today. It’s a funny, dramatic, scandalous, and still wonderfully entertaining film that everyone needs to see at least once…..or many times.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Another iconic film starring Paul Newman, this time paired with Robert Redford as loveable outlaws on the run from a posse of lawmen, robbing banks and trains across two continents along the way. Newman plays Butch, the brains and leader of the two while Redford plays the Sundance Kid, the lightning fast gunman with a harnessed temper. Providing the blueprint for every bickering buddy film to follow for decades, the film’s charming antiheroes, based on the true to life wild-west outlaws of the same name, will have you rooting for them from the opening scene. It is the legendary ending; however, which launched it into film history.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
One of the most controversial films of all time, A Clockwork Orange sparked one of the first of many national debates about graphic violence in movies, and its effect on youth. Malcolm McDowell stars as Alex, a disturbed sociopathic teenager who spends his days wandering the streets with his ‘droogs’ looking for trouble and a bit of ‘ultra-violence’ in the not too distant future of London. Alex eventually is incarcerated for one of his crimes, but he is later chosen as a candidate for a new experimental program meant to rehabilitate him through an intense brain washing therapy.
The results of Alex reentering the world reborn are just as unsettling as his previous life of crime. The film was so divisive upon its initial release that its director Stanley Kubrick eventually had the film pulled from circulation in England after receiving death threats where it remained banned from the country for nearly three decades. Based upon Anthony Burgess’ book of the same name, the film can be difficult to follow at first due to its character’s heavy use of Burgess’ own created language for the novel of futuristic Cockney and Russian slang. I would not recommend this movie to everyone, but, if you like what you hear, you’ll definitely want to check out one of the most divisive and craziest films in history.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
One of the three films to ever sweep all five major Academy Awards at the Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay) and based upon Ken Kesey’s acclaimed novel of the same name, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest stars Jack Nicholson as a low level crook sent to a state mental hospital. His strong personality and questioning of authority sparks an ongoing feud with the cold-hearted head nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher) trying to keep the patients under her care in control. McMurphy sees her dominating treatment of his fellow patients as a way to keep them under her thumb in fear rather than an actual attempt to help them get better and begins to rebel against the system. His increasingly disruptive behavior is met with even harsher treatment by Nurse Ratched and a war of wills between the two threatens the stability of the hospital. Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif, and Danny Devito star as fellow patients in early roles in their careers. A great film filled with wonderful performances all around.
Other Suggestions: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde