Jewish World Review
March 17, 2011
/11 Adar II, 5771
Our favorite lawyer movies ever
Warning: Lawyer jokes ahead.
"What do you have if three lawyers are buried up to their necks in cement?" Not enough cement.
If they ever make a spin-off movie about Jackie Chiles, Cosmo Kramer's attorney on "Seinfeld," he'll make our list of all-time favorite movie lawyers. Phil Morris played the character, loosely based on the late Johnnie Cochran.
"What's the difference between a lawyer and a leech?" A leech will stop sucking your blood after you die.
"How many lawyer jokes are there?" Only three. The rest are true stories.
I could go on and on. Even William Shakespeare and Mark Twain climbed aboard the lawyer-bashing bandwagon, the former with his oft-repeated line "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers," and the latter with the observation that "It is interesting to note that criminals have multiplied of late, and lawyers have also, but I repeat myself."
I was reminded of lawyer jokes the other day when I caught an early screening of Matthew McConaughey's new movie "The Lincoln Lawyer," which opens March 18. He plays a slick criminal defense attorney who works out of the back of a Lincoln Continental. You might remember that McConaughey played an attorney in the 1996 film "A Time to Kill." In fact, some people (me) think that "The Lincoln Lawyer" might be his best work since his earlier lawyer role.
Over breakfast this week, I asked McConaughey why he thought the public loved movies about lawyers, despite laughing very hard at jokes told at the expense of the legal profession.
The actor thought about the question for a few minutes, and suggested that perhaps it is because lawyers in movies usually represent innocent clients, and therefore are heroic figures. He laughed, and then offered the opinion that most defendants represented by attorneys in real-life criminal cases are not as innocent as their cinematic brethren.
McConaughey is a movie star, so let's assume he's right. Aren't they always right?
But it is true that movie audiences love movies about lawyers. I thought we might celebrate such movies with a list of our favorite movie lawyers. Please don't tell me I forgot Perry Mason or Matlock. They are TV lawyers and besides, if I were compiling a list of my favorite TV lawyers, the list probably would be headed by Jackie Chiles from the "Seinfeld" series.
THE 10 BEST LAWYER MOVIES OF ALL TIME:
1. "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962) — This is not only one the greatest movies ever made, but Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) might be the greatest character in the history of film, let alone the greatest legal character. Peck won the Oscar, as did screenwriter Horton Foote, who based his script on Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
2. "The Verdict" (1982) — Sidney Lumet directed and David Mamet wrote this story of a drunk ambulance chaser (Paul Newman) who seeks personal redemption when he is handed a medical malpractice case that would be a slam dunk if he ignored the questionable ethics and morality of the case and played along. But that wouldn't have made much of a movie, would it?
3. "Adam's Rib" (1949) — Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn play married attorneys on opposite sides of a criminal case. George Cukor directed what many consider the best comedy about marriage and the law ever made.
4. "A Few Good Men" (1992) — A lot of detractors didn't think Tom Cruise could handle the truth that the role of a Naval attorney defending two Marines was too big for his acting ability. However, he surprised a lot of people, even holding his own in an epic courtroom scene with one of the great scene-stealers of all time — Jack Nicholson. Not only is this Cruise's best acting performance, but close on its heels is another movie about lawyers — "The Firm."
5. "My Cousin Vinny" (1992) — Joe Pesci is no ordinary fish-out-of-water in this comedy. He's a New York guy in Alabama who defends his cousin in a capital murder case, even though his legal background is less than impressive. The only thing better than the tuxedo Pesci wore to court was Herman Munster's (Fred Gwynn's) portrayal as a stern and skeptical judge. Marisa Tomei won an Oscar for a short skirt and a perfect accent.
6. "Legally Blonde" (2001) — Essentially, one long lawyer joke. Reese Witherspoon is Cosmo-licious.
7. "Inherit the Wind" (1960) — Spencer Tracy and Frederick March play out a slightly fictionalized version of the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial" with Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan.
8. "Anatomy of a Murder" (1959) — James Stewart represents an Army officer (Ben Gazzara) accused of murdering a bartender he claims raped his wife (Lee Remick).
9. "Primal Fear" (1996) — Richard Gere in one of his best roles, but newcomer Edward Norton steals the show with one look — when he transforms from stuttering altar boy to stone-cold killer.
10. "… And Justice for All" (1979) — "You're out of order, you're out of order, the whole trial is out of order."
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