10 Classic Films To Improve Your Movie Vocabulary


While most people won’t shut up about the new Avengers throw-down, we’re dialing it back about 75 years to some classic films in order to make improve our movie conversation skills. If you’ve ever wanted to be considered a “movie buff,” well here’s your chance. This is what the Red Hot Chili Peppers might call “sophilmstication.”

Spoiler alert: Robert Downey Jr. is not in these films, but Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart are. If you’re not into it, you’ll always have Marvel.

Brief Encounter (1945)

P.T. Anderson notes Brief Encounter as one of the films he and Daniel Day-Lewis incessantly watched while putting together Phantom Thread. It’s the story of a bored suburban housewife who falls in deep with a doctor of a neighboring town, basically The Real Housewives of ’45.

Maltese Falcon (1941)

A film noir in which Humphrey Bogart plays Detective Sam Spade who’s on the hunt for a falcon statue for a beautiful woman (yes, it’s the movie where the “stuff that dreams are made of” line comes from). Things heat up when the man suspected of having the statue kills Bogart’s partner. That deserves a bitch slap. “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it.” – Humphrey Bogart

Citizen Kane (1941)

If you’ve ever seen a “Best Movies of All Time” list anywhere at any time, Citizen Kane is almost invariably #1. So why not stop pretending to have seen it? Written and directed by Orson Welles, the film follows a reporter trying to decipher the final words of a dying man (“Rosebud”) whose life would unfold throughout the film. It’s Donald Trump’s favorite movie, not surprisingly, but supposedly he doesn’t understand it very well. The titular Kane was loosely based on newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst–the man whose name now stands above Cosmopolitanand Esquire magazines.

Casablanca (1942)

Humphrey Bogart plays nightclub owner Rick Blaine in one of the oldest love stories as Rick gets himself into trouble when he helps an old flame who bursts into his club asking for his help to get her and her husband, a wanted man, out of town. She, of course, falls for the Bogart. Also, he never actually says “Play it again, Sam” in the movie, even though it’s become the most famous line.

The Third Man (1949)

Another Orson Welles-led masterpiece, The Third Man is set in post-war Vienna and follows a broke writer who shows up at an old friend’s to find him dead, then puts together a theory based on the third man involved. You know how every music conversation seems to come back to Bob Dylan? This is the Bob Dylan of film noir.

His Girl Friday (1940)

Cary Grant plays a newspaper editor who unsuccessfully uses a juicy story to lure back his ex-wife, a reporter, who sees an innocent man in the story then gets to work on it. It’s famous for its rapid-fire dialogue.

The Big Sleep (1946)

Humphrey Bogart plays — you guessed it — an investigator who deals with a woman in trouble and her beautiful sister (Lauren Bacall). Things, of course, get hairer the thicker the plot gets. It’s based on the 1939 Raymond Chandler novel. Takeaway line: “She tried to sit on my lap while I was standing up.”

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant play quite the comedic couple in the 80-year-old classic in which Grant is a scientist on the cusp of receiving a $1 million grant from a woman, whose wild niece makes his life a train wreck. It’s the precursor to “wild woman” movies like Madonna’s Desperately Seeking Susan or Melanie Griffith’s Something Wild.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Frank Capra directs Cary Grant, who plays a writer that falls for the girl next door (Priscilla Lane). Upon returning home, the newlyweds find a hidden corpse on the plane. The more his relatives get involved, the more insane Grant finds them to be. Classic black comedy in the vein of Throw Momma From the Train.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

A Christmas favorite about suicide and good deeds. The end. Seriously, if you haven’t seen this, what is hell like?

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