Network (1976)

The finest satire ever committed to celluloid

Robert Duvall was born bald, and bald he has remained. Not bald in a fashionable, Michael Stipe way, but bald like a monk or warehouse manager -- the most slovenly, "I couldn't care less if I ever get laid" kind of bald there is.

As undeniable as Duvall's baldness is the man's talent: He is one of the greatest character actors (if not the greatest) in the history of cinema. His turn as a hard-ass network exec in Network does nothing to diminish this claim. But this Sidney Lumet-directed satire is so chockablock with brilliant performances that you damn near forget Duvall is even in it. William Holden and Faye Dunaway are so sensational as warring department heads/illicit lovers that Duvall becomes mere wallpaper.

If that's not the highest compliment that can be paid to a film, what is? Well, how about the fact that the supersuave Holden, nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, was beaten to the podium by fellow cast member Peter Finch? Or that Beatrice Straight, cast as Holden's doormat wife, nabbed the Best Supporting Actress statuette on the strength of maybe ten minutes of screen time? (The smoldering Dunaway walked off with Best Actress honors.) That Network was not named the Best Picture of 1976 is testament to the overwhelming strength of that year's crop, which included Rocky, All the President's Men, Taxi Driver, Marathon Man, Carrie and Bound for Glory, not to mention the shamefully overlooked Bad News Bears, a seven-layer-deep dramedy too often dismissed as a cutesy-tootsy carnival for tots.

Comedy's tough. Satire's tougher. More daunting still is for truly smart satire to generate belly laughs -- as opposed to the knowing chuckles the genre usually contents itself with. Yet Network elicits them, early and often. It is, for Phyllis' money (and we have wheelbarrows full of it, baby), the finest satire ever committed to celluloid. Were it not for the peerless Billy Madison, it'd probably be the best comedy ever made, too.

Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.