On the Waterfront "Beaten up and beaten down, baffled Terry Malloy still yearns for redeeming love and heroic self-assertion. He achieves both in Elia Kazan's masterpiece of American realism. A half-century later the film's presentation of union corruption on the New Jersey docks seems a little quaint, but Brando's ferocious and tormented yearning for Eva Marie Saint's virginal Catholic girl will still tear your heart out."
White Heat "He was most often a brass-knuckled sprite inhabiting the concrete jungles of an urbanizing America. But in Raoul Walsh's potent portrayal of a criminal gang roving backroads America, he permanently redefined psychopathic criminality in the movies. There's no charm in Cagney's work here—just a touch of pathos, as he squawks the unchained melodies of a murderously unbridled id."
Chinatown "Waiting for stylish, brittle women to break is one of the enduring pleasures of movies. Bette Davis built a great career on that dark device. Dunaway built a great performance on it as Evelyn Mulwray, the woman raped by her perfectly powerful, perfectly evil father (screenwriter Robert Towne thought the father's sexual predation perfectly matched his rape of the virginal California landscape). Her breakdown ("She's my sister, she's my daughter") is perhaps the iconic moment in post-modern American cinema."
Notorious "He is remembered—rightly—as Mr. Charm. But the slum kid from Bristol, England never forgot his harsh and lonely beginnings. It lent a flickering reality to his giddiest comic performances, but Alfred Hitchcock stressed Cary Grant's dark side in the five films they made together—never more effectively than in this brilliantly suspenseful tale of cruel love almost lost to the exigencies of counter-espionage."
Double Indemnity "Tough gals don't cry. They scamalot. And the movies never had a more hypnotic double-dealer than Stanwyck. Whether she was sleeping her way to the top of a bank (Baby Face), playing a card sharp (The Lady Eve) or luring Fred MacMurray into mutually-assured destruction in Billy Wilder's scheming dream of L.A.'s dark side, she was always a bundle of barbed wire entrancingly encased in velvet."
The Rules of the Game "Not an actor by trade, only one of the greatest directors, Renoir cast himself as the bearish, garrulous friend of the aviator hero in this magnificent 1939 fresco of the French leisure class gamboling in the shadow of imminent war. As aristocrats and servants flirt and hurt one another, Renoir stands slightly apart, smiling and pained, understanding the sadness of the maxim "Everyone has his own reasons." Now here's my reason or this choice: 30 years ago, Andrew Sarris, Richard Roud and I were chatting, and someone wondered which film character we thought best expressed our own temperaments. Simultaneously, each of us exclaimed, "Jean Renoir in The Rules of the Game!" Three film lovers saw themselves in the mirror of Renoir's humane skepticism. 'Nuff said."
Awara "He was more than the primal star of Indian cinema. To most of the planet, Raj Kapoor was India in all its vitality, humanity and poignancy. Awara (1951) and the other '50s films Kapoor directed, produced and starred in with Nargis, his muse and mistress, were sensations not only in India and throughout the Arab world but in the Soviet Union (where the movies' songs became top hits) and Communist China (Mao once named Awara his favorite film). A Ronald Colman lookalike, Kapoor wanted to be India's Charlie Chaplin; Awara translates as "The Tramp." He plays Raju, son of a stern judge (Kapoor's own father Prithviraj) who had banished his wife after she was abducted, perhaps ravaged, by a brigand. Raju, not knowing his prominent, blighted parentage, grows up a vagabond, falls in love with the judge's adopted daughter (Nargis) and is charged with a crime that must be decided by ... his father. With a wild dream sequence, enough passions and plot anomalies for a dozen Hollywood soapers, and a luminous, startling seaside seduction, Awara serves as a superb primer for Indian cinema and its actor-auteur, forever revered as The Great Showman."
Bells Are Ringing "She had a little, kewpie-doll voice and a large frame; the 5ft.10in. comedienne would have bought her gowns at the Big & Tall Ladies' Salon. Judy Holliday was also the most dynamic, engaging musical comedy star of her generation. That makes her only movie musical, Bells Are Ringing, one to treasure. Adapted by her old Revuers pals Betty Comden and Adolph Green from their Broadway hit, with tunes by Jule Styne and direction by Vincente Minnelli, the film casts Holliday as Ella Petersen, an answering service operator who brightens her customer's lives but has no control over her own. Dean Martin is the wrong guy who becomes Mr. Right, and Eddie Foy Jr. a bookie with a scheme to take phone bets disguised as orders for classical records ("Who is Handel? Hialeah! Hialeah!"). But it's Judy's show, and she's a pearl: sweet, vulnerable, totally winning. Her farewell song ("I'm goin' back / Where I can be me / At the Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company") has an extra poignance because this was Holliday's final film. She died of throat cancer five years later, at 44."
Groundhog Day "Selfish and snarky, Murray's Phil Connors is a Pittsburgh weatherman who plans to be in Punxsutawney, Pa., for just one day: Feb. 2, Groundhog Day. Except that the day repeats itself, with infinitely minute variations, until Phil gets it right. Punxatawney becomes Phil's Purgatory, or maybe Limbo, a place with this weather report: "It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be gray, and it's gonna last you the rest of your life." The script for this 1992 film, by Danny Rubin and director Harold Ramis, superbly balances comedy and philosophy. (Is God a Groundhog? Discuss.) But it's Murray who sells, and inhabits, this rumination on life as an endless repetition of small inanities and indignities. Since Caddyshack and Ghostbusters, Murray has refined his amiable doofus into the minimalist modern man—his posture a question mark, his face a concrete poem of anticipated disappointment. Murray-Man should have won an Oscar for Lost in Translation, and certainly for this film, where he can rise to romance and sink to despair—and be wonderfully funny—all in the same day."
Swordsman II '"To talk about Ching Hsia is like talking about Grace Kelly," cinematographer Christopher Doyle said in 1998 in Akiko Tetsuya's book, The Last Star in the East. "Because even to me, she represents what we hope the image of beauty in our world is. She is perfect." Ling Ching-hsia—Brigitte Lin to her western acolytes—was discovered on a Taipei street at 18 and became a star in her first film, Outside the Window. A ravishing presence for a decade in Taiwanese weepies, she came to Hong Kong in the 80s and changed her image. In the films of Tsui Hark (Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain, Peking Opera Blues, Swordsman II, East Is Red), she was cunning, sexy, enigmatic, often androgyne. Nobody could match her display of fiery charisma and tart wit. In the 1992 Swordsman II, Lin plays an evil male deity who has castrated himself to become a woman and achieve greater powers. Radiating a molten stare, and battling hero Jet Li in some of the most dizzyingly choreographed fights in Hong Kong history, Lin easily lives up to her character's name: Invincible Asia. Though she quit movies when she married in 1994, she remains just that, invincible and indelible."
In addition to the 100 Greatest Movies, TIME critics Richard Schickel and Richard Corliss named off ten great performances. They were not ranked, and each critic was given five choices.
Like with the 100 Greatest Movies, I have included the original abstracts.