When I picked up the phone and heard William Sadler‘s voice on the other end of the line, I got hit with flashbacks to some of his characters from numerous films on other people’s Five Favorite Films lists, like Die Hard 2, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Green Mile, Kinsey, and Iron Man 3. It seemed appropriate that we begin the conversation by him asking if he was allowed to pick one of his films to be on his list. I told him absolutely, because of the movies he’s been in. He expressed gratitude for being in the particular film that seems to “grow in stature” over time, but ultimately decided to leave The Shawshank Redemption off the list and go with these instead.
The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, 1982) 88%
Paul Newman, Milo O’Shea, and James Mason. I met Paul Newman a couple of times — he saw me in two of the three Broadway shows that I’ve done in New York. He came backstage and said how much he loved the shows, and I’ve just been a fan of his work forever. This [pick] was a toss up between this and Cool Hand Luke, another monster Paul Newman movie. There was something wonderful about his lost soul that he found in The Verdict. The [characters are] on opposite ends of the scale. Luke can’t be broken, apparently. He’s got that grin and that spirit. In The Verdict he’s already broken, he’s hanging on by a thread and hoping he can pull this out. Wonderful actor, underrated.
Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly, 1952) 100%
Again, toss up between The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain. This one is perfect. Not a frame is off. There’s not a weak character, there’s not a weak moment, it’s just a delight all the way through. There’s Donald O’Connor doing Make ‘Em Laugh. They turned him loose and he just went. [And there’s] that wonderful scene where they’re talking to the voice coach. They make it look so easy and effortless — and if you’ve ever danced on stage, if you’ve ever tried tap dancing and singing at the same time, there is nothing easy about it. It is just astonishing. “Whaddya think, I’m dumb or something?” Oh, Jean Hagen.
Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992) 96%
With my friend Morgan [Freeman]. It’s so funny, these movies, the ones that I’m pulling out, they all have the same element. They feel perfect. I can’t find a false note, I can’t find a scene or a moment that you could lose and the movie would still be as good. There’s not a wasted breath. I think that Unforgiven is some of Clint Eastwood’s best work. I love westerns — I grew up on them — watching them and playing them around the barn in Buffalo. This is a different western, again, this is a broken guy who’s hanging on by his fingernails. He’s been a dirt farmer, he’s lost his wife, this is his last shot. That’s funny, it’s a little like The Verdict in that respect. None of it is pretty. It’s not slick, it’s not the balletic gunfighting that you see in some movies. It’s ugly and awkward and it’s not easy to kill a man. That was one of the themes that just stuck out like a sore thumb. This is not an easy thing to do, kill a man. For all the glamour and all the romance of the old west and the gunfights and so on, this is awful work, guns. They brought that to life. Gene Hackman can do no wrong. He’s sort of an acting god.
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) 97%
I saw it when I was in college and I went back and saw it again, and then I went back and saw it again. It has all my favorite actors in it. Big as life, absolutely in their top form. It doesn’t get any better than that anywhere. I saw them up on the screen and I thought “I want to do that, that’s what I want to do.” That had a big impact on me when I was a kid, coming up. We learn these movies like old friends, they’re like songs that when you hear them enough you know every note and moment, you know when he’s going to look over and you expect the lines, you’re doing them along with the film. Brilliant, brilliant piece of filmmaking. On everybody’s part. Robert Duvall. Spectacular stuff — [Duvall has] forgotten more about acting than most of us will ever learn.
A romance between a beat up, tired, old, raggedy-ass drunkard hanging on by a thread and one last hurrah. There’s a theme in the film that I love. To see the two of them [Humphrey Bogart and Kathryn Hepburn], the chemistry was so magical. It was so easy and fun. They were having so much fun. Clearly. It was like watching a tennis match between two of the best players of all time. Just effortless. And they tell this phenomenal story. I’m a sucker for those. [Hepburn] had a similar chemistry with lots of people, with Spencer Tracy in the Pat and Mike film, it was just sparkle and fun. Going back and forth between her and Bogie and they let Bogie play this guy, this stumbling bumbling [does impression “Well, Ma’am”] which was great, he just went there. John Huston did a brilliant job with that thing.
is in theaters, on VOD, and iTunes on June 5th.