Ann Hornaday Recommends
To Die For (1995, 106 minutes) -- Regardless of how you feel about Nicole Kidman's performance in "The Stepford Wives," no one can dispute that she was tone-perfect in this scathing, toxically bleak story of ambition, sex, murder and media. Kidman proved her mettle as the graspingly careerist weatherwoman Suzanne Stone, who persuades her teenage lover (Joaquin Phoenix) to murder her husband (Matt Dillon). Her performance is funny, ruthless and brazenly brave. (Rated R for strong sexual content and profanity.)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, 93 minutes) -- Stanley Kubrick's wicked sendup of the then-burgeoning military-industrial complex is still lacerating today. Which is better, George C. Scott's bull-like portrayal of Gen. Buck Turgidson ("Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed") or the Peter Sellers trifecta of Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, Dr. Strangelove and President Merkin Muffley? You'll watch it and weep -- from laughter and maybe just a hint of despair.
Stalag 17 (1953, 120 minutes) -- Billy Wilder did the impossible with this World War II satire: He made a German POW camp funny. William Holden is at his best as Sgt. J.J. Sefton, the smooth operator who wheels and deals with his German guards for perks; when the barracks escape plans keep getting leaked to the authorities, he's the immediate suspect. Striking the perfect balance of humor, action and substance, this sets a gold standard for comedy not at its most cynical but at its most wise.