The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Henry Fonda’s moving portrayal as beaten but not bowed Tom Joad reflected the plight of millions of Americans in the forties who were still suffering the effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Quite simply, a textbook for modern, expressionistic filmmaking. Director Orson Welles innovative work in cinematography (including his use of deep focus and low angle and crane shots) was daringly bold, as there was no way to know what critics and audiences would make of it. Welles broke similar ground in the art of film editing (using it to compress time) and sound mixing (as a way to provide continuity and demonstrate contrast.) The end result was a film of unmatched technical achievement that presented its characters and story in ways audiences had never experienced prior.
Double Indemnity (1944)
Billy Wilder’s classic was the most critically acclaimed and influential of the film noir (“dark film”) genre that turned the movie industry on its ear by challenging Hollywood's Production Code and presenting stories that explored murder, sex, adultery, and other elements of society that until that time, had either been romanticized or ignored by American filmmakers.
This movie’s theme and storyline been borrowed for dozens of subsequent films (Mr. Destiny, The Family Man, Click) and TV shows (episodes of Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Cheers, Married With Children, Moonlighting) but it’s been a beloved holiday classic for decades.
One of the most overrated films of all time that’s still left an indelible impression on our popular culture, in part due to Humphrey Bogart’s iconic characterization of boozy, cynical club owner Rick Blaine; the classic Herman Hupfeld composition “As Time Goes By”; and the film’s enduring quotability (“Of all the gin joints…”; “Here’s looking at you kid”; “This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, etc.)