1. The Bishop's Wife. While this film--required Christmas viewing in our house--has its share of magical moments (e.g., the angel Dudley’s visit with the professor, the ice skating scene, etc.), its greatest asset is Cary Grant’s performance. For once, despite his looks and charm, he doesn't get the girl! Furthermore, his angel Dudley becomes jealous and, in one scene, perhaps a little petty. In the hands of a less gifted actor, this portrayal of an often human-like angel could have posed a problem. But Grant provides all the required character shading and still keeps Dudley immensely likable. That was one of his greatest gifts as a performer.
2. Bringing Up Baby. One of the highlights of this delirious screwball comedy is watching uptight paleontologist Dr. David Huxley (Grant) slip deeper and deeper into increasingly madcap situations--until he just accepts them. While Cary Grant has played his share of free-spirited characters (e.g., Holiday), he's content in Baby to play off Katharine Hepburn's wacky character. He proves to be the perfect yin to her yang. It's a shame they made only four movies together and just this one true farce.
3. Notorious. If I listed my favorite Cary Grant movies, then North By Northwest would get this slot. However, this is a list of Cary's best performances and so Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious gets the nod. As espionage agent T.R. Devlin, Grant comes mighty close to playing an unlikable character. In the name of patriotism, he recruits a confused young woman (Ingrid Bergman), falls in love with her, convinces her to spy on a Nazi leader, and then allows her to marry the bad guy. In the end, Devlin does the right thing--but the only reason we "forgive" him is because Grant convinces us that his tainted hero is also a pawn in a global game against evil.
4. An Affair to Remember. Leo McCarey's remake of his earlier Love Affair (1939) is too often dismissed as a first-rate romance with soap opera overtones. In fact, it's an extremely well-acted character study of two people who unexpectedly find true love aboard a cruise ship. The clever screenplay, co-written by Delmer Daves, plays with stereotypes--especially Cary Grant as wealthy playboy Nickie Ferrante. Grant peels back his character's public persona gradually, revealing Nickie's warmth, sincerity, and insecurities. The film also provides Grant with one of his finest acting scenes--when Nickie concludes that Terry (Deborah Kerr) has rejected him by not appearing for their Empire State Building rendezvous.
5. North By Northwest. Cary Grant excelled at playing unflappable characters, with the finest example being this classic Hitchcock picture about an innocent man mistaken for a spy and later framed for murder. Thrust into an espionage plot, Grant's advertising executive never seems out of his depth--even when being pursued by a crop duster. When examined on its own, the plot stretches credibility, but that never crosses my mind when watching North By Northwest thanks to Hitchcock's direction and the strong cast--in particular, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, and, of course, Cary Grant.
Honorable Mentions: People Will Talk; Arsenic and Old Lace; His Girl Friday; Holiday; Gunga Din; Charade; and The Awful Truth.