STRANGERS ON A TRAIN
: One of Hitchcock’s greatest films begins when one stranger proposes to another that they switch murders, but only one is a psychopathic killer who fulfills his part of the bargain. What follows is a cat and mouse game with the psychopath doggedly pursuing his supposed partner, his psychological double, to force him to fulfill his promise and commit murder. One of Hitch’s favorites, of which he said, “Isn’t it a fascinating design. One could study it forever.”
MAN ON A TRAIN
: French director Patrice Leconte pairs two unlikely characters, a retired teacher and a world-weary gangster. As their improbable friendship deepens, each character comes to understand how his very different life represents the unlived life of the other man. These two opposites and doubles, as they learn from one another, exchanging gifts and roles, find their fates entangled. The sedate teacher with too little adventure in his life has befriended a man whose life has had too much risk and uncertainty.
THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT
: Of all the Ealing comedies this is my personal favorite. Amateur Scientist (Alec Guinness) invents an indestructible fabric that also repels dirt. His invention threatens both management profits and the textile workers jobs. Who else but the whimsical Sidney Stratton (Guinness) could unite the normally wrangling management and labor in this hilarious and trenchant social comedy.
SECRETS AND LIES
: English director Mike Leigh confronts and transcends both class and race barriers in this extraordinarily rich film. White working class mother Cynthia (the marvelous Brenda Blethyn) receives a call from Hortense, a young, successful Black woman who claims to be Cynthia’s daughter. The family turmoil and shifting relationships that follow expose the secrets and lies of these enormously sympathetic characters.
THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD
: Martin Ritt’s 1965 adaptation of John LeCarre’s first international best seller stars the Oscar nominated Richard Burton in one of his best lead roles. Alec Leamas (Burton) is the antidote to stylish James Bond, who dominated the sixties cinema. Pretending to be a disaffected British spy, Leamas infiltrates the East German espionage agency to falsely accuse and bring down Mundt, one of its top leaders. As you might guess, not everything or anything is what it seems.
THE LIVES OF OTHERS
: This 2006 German film is my candidate for the best film in the new millennium—a ridiculous claim I am ready to defend. Ostensibly a Cold War thriller set in Communist East Germany, it offers a stunning examination of loneliness and moral and psychological transformation of Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler as he spies on a playwright and his actress/mistress. The film begins in 1984 and ends after the fall of the Berlin Wall and celebrates the transformative power of the arts on a single isolated soul.