"Ben Hur" - Best Picture winner in 1959 and #72 on the AFI list. One of the great sprawling epics that made Hollywood famous. I never saw the whole thing because it clocked in at over 3 1/2 hours. Sure, it gets really sappy and beats you over the head with Christianity, but it's worth it to see the overall spectacle of big, bombastic film making.
"The Lion in Winter" - This was more of an "honorable mention" since it is not on the AFI list nor did it win for Best Picture (just nominated). Katherine Hepburn did win Best Actress and Peter O'Toole was nominated for Best Actor. It's just a period piece about the marital troubles of Henry II. The acting was good but overall it was a snoozer.
"A Streetcar Named Desire" - #45 on the AFI list and just nominated for Best Picture in 1951. The movie that really launched Marlon Brando's career. Lots of great acting here as Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden all took home acting Oscars. It's the tale of love and lust in the back streets of New Orleans. Brando yelling "Stella!" is one of those classic movie moments.
"Casablanca" - #2 on the AFI list and Best Picture winner in 1943. How could I have not seen one of the greatest movies ever made? Simple. Like many movies I have written about, I had seen bits and pieces here and there, but had never sat down and watched it in its entirety. Problem solved.
"The Maltese Falcon" - #23 on the AFI list and nominated for Best Picture in 1941. Before he starred in "Casablanca," Bogie set the standard for film noir private eyes as Sam Spade. This movie set the standard for the genre.
"Mrs. Miniver" - Best Picture winner for 1942. I knew very little about this film. I think it won because it featured the struggle of Britain in the early stages of WWII just as America was getting involved in the war. The movie illustrated the pain of our ally from Dunkirk to The Blitz.
"Gone With the Wind" - #4 on the AFI list and Best Picture winner for 1939. How could I have not seen this American classic?!? Easy! It's almost 4 hours long! But I sat down and watched the whole thing. It was like a movie and its sequel combined into one. The first part was exciting as The South went to war. The 2nd half was about a spoiled little bitch wanting a man who didn't love her. Meh. By the end I was in agreement with Clarke Gable that I didn't give a damn.
"The Best Years of Our Lives" - #37 on the AFI list and Best Picture winner in 1946. This was a real surprise. A very pleasant one. I'm surprised that this movie hasn't received more attention because the plot of servicemen returning home after war is just as relevant today as it was then. It must have been the "America Sniper" of its day (without the rubber baby). It tackled some really big questions of the day including coming home without limbs or coming back from a world where you were a hero to one where you're just another uneducated schlub looking to find menial work. It's movies like this that make we want to catch up on all of the classics that I missed. There are so many "hidden" gems out there where I might only know a title or have seen a single scene. It's a treasure hunt that I will continue for a long time.