Today in Movie History: September 19

After several weeks of quiet days, we’ve got one filled with four of the greatest movies ever made. I agonized over which one to start with, but went with my heart. L.A. Confidential generated tons of critical buzz, but not much box office when it was first released, and while it scored a couple of Oscars (for Brian Helgeland’s script and Kim Basinger representing an extraordinary acting ensemble), it got swamped by the tidal wave that was Titanic. 19 years on, James Cameron’s epic looks decidedly creaky (if still seaworthy) while L.A. Confidential has become an indisputable masterpiece. (You also get to watch Russell Crowe brutalize people, and who doesn’t love that?) It opened today in 1997.

If neo noir is your thing, then we have a second classic for you: David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, a tale of voyeurism and monstrosity beneath the façade of an all-American town. Kyle MacLachan and Laura Dern turned in fine performances as a clean-cut young couple who stumble into a nightmare, but the film belongs to Dennis Hopper’s gas-huffing maniac: a character who never leaves your darkest dreams once he has a foothold. Blue Velvet opened today in 1986.

Hang on, did I just put Goodfellas at number three? That’s the kind of day this is: strictly cream. Martin Scorsese’s no-fairy-tales look at how organized crime really works served as an exquisite counterbalance to romanticized gangster epics like The Godfather. Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci all turn in career-best performances (Pesci scoring an Oscar in the process) as a tight-knit crew who do awful things in the name of money, only to happily turn on each other when then chips are down. It opened today in 1990.

The finale on today’s cavalcade of heavy hitters closes things out only because it’s the only one not quite of a kind with the others. But its insight into the darkness of the human soul is no less potent for its puckish nature, nor is its celebration of the greatest musician who ever lived any less worthy of note. It’s Amadeus, Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning classic about the nature of talent, the power of jealousy, and how the rules we live by have a funny way of changing over time. It remains one of the few Best Picture winners that may actually deserve the title. It opened today in 1984.

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