40 must-watch movies to consider yourself a film buff

16 of 41

North by Northwest (1959)

Alfred Hitchcock was known as the Master of Suspense, so narrowing a pick down to just one feature is a challenge in itself. North by Northwest is Hitchcock’s most twisty narrative with a plot so convoluted that properly explaining it should get you a ribbon.

In short, the feature is about Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), an ad man accused of being a spy in a case of mistaken identity. The apotheosis of Hitchcock’s “wrong man” narratives, North by Northwest has so many scenes you’ve seen recreated in other movies, most famously the cropduster sequence, wherein Grant’s Roger has to duck out of the way of a low-flying plane.

The film plays on not just the paranoia of its lead character, but the paranoia that was gripping the country in the wake of the Red Scare. Grant is at his most charming and is complicated by one of Hitchcock’s unsung female characters, Eva Marie Saint’s Eve Kendall. Saint is flawless, to be sure, but her performance as Eve is progressive in its sauciness.

Nearly the entire film’s midsection plays like a ‘60s romantic sex comedy, with Grant and her exchanging double entendres. It’s almost hard to believe this romantic drama becomes a spy thriller at a certain point. It’s ultimately mix of genres that leads to some expert action and suspense.

Where to Watch It: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, Vudu, and YouTube have it available to rent.