A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Kubrick's take on Anthony Burgess's indictment of the psychological theory of behaviorism is a highly disturbing masterpiece. Malcolm McDowell's portrayal of the sadistic, classical-music-loving, sociopathic young gang leader Alex is captivating. After a particularly heinous assault, Alex is subjected to aversion therapy to cure his immoral ways in a scene that is nearly as disturbing as any of his previous acts. This is not an easy film to watch, and - unless you're a bit like Alex yourself - it may leave you feeling unsettled. It certainly does me, but, of course, that was entirely Kubrick's intention - that and to leave us questioning how we define morality.
Taking advantage of Dustin Hoffman's real-life reputation as a difficult actor, Sydney Pollack cast him as the uncastable Michael Dorsey, who must cross-dress as Dorothy "Tootsie" Michaels in order to land a role on a soap opera. Much to his surprise, Tootsie becomes a sensation. This film cleverly mixes farcical, Some Like It Hot -type gags with actual social commentary about the role and treatment of women in society, but not quite as much as it is given credit for - this is at its heart just a romantic comedy, albeit a very good one.
In the early Westerns, it was easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys: the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black ones. As the cinema Westerns became more sophisticated, the good guys were discernible by their actions. With the introduction of the anti-hero, sometimes the actions were dubious, but ultimately you knew who the good guy was when he was faced with a decision that required him to check his moral compass, and he chose the road of the righteous. In producer-director-star Clint Eastwood's updating of the Western, the lines between good and bad aren't just unclear - they're non-existent. Nearly every character in this film has their own moral high-road, and - when we see far enough down each of these roads - we are repulsed by where they go. The message of this film appears to be that at the end of the high road there is a dangerously slippery slope, or maybe I'm just reading too much into it.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Okay, imagine you're watching a boxing match between two very capable fighters. At first, you're not sure that they're evenly matched: one seems to be a flyweight and the other one is definitely a heavyweight, but when the punches start flying you begin to think that it may be the heavyweight who's out of their league. The fight goes on for some time, and it is fascinating. Sometimes one fighter looks like they're winning, and then sometimes it seems the other fighter has the advantage. All of a sudden, one of the boxers takes the gloves off and connects bare knuckles against jawbone. Reeling, the other fighter responds with a kick to the shins. Suddenly, you're watching a brawl - a no-holds-barred street fight. It's horrendous . . . but you can't look away.
Now, change the fisticuffs to verbal sparring and the fighters to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and you've got Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Okay, do the theme song along with me: dun dadundaaaaa dun dadahhh dun dadundAAAA dundadaadAAAA...
If you were an imaginative, active kid in 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark was a game changer. Forget the towel/Superman cape. Cast aside the toy pearl-handled six-shooters and the ten-gallon hat. Now you had to find a beat-up brown fedora and a piece of rope or extension cord or anything that could double for your trusty bull whip. Today, you were going to be Indiana Jones!
George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg's tribute to old action movie serials (Lucas's second tribute, counting Star Wars) had everything a good action film from the 40s needed: a swashbuckling hero, ancient and modern perils, Nazis, a global conspiracy, a plucky female love interest, and, of course, a rousing musical score. Who doesn't love this movie? Even the nitpickers who take issue with how long Indy can hold his breath clinging to the side of a German submarine have to admit: this movie is awesome.
*Bonus* I wasn't sure what today's bonus was going to be, but then I found that I had a song stuck in my head from the movie Tootsie. Strangely, it wasn't the title song played over the montage of Dorothy Michael's rise to fame, you know, the one that goes "Go, Toot-sie, go...", it was the cheesy, light pop love song "It Might Be You" (strangely referred to as the "theme from Tootsie"). My earworm is now your earworm.