image credit: julie falk
Know my favorite films and you will know me. Tell me if you agree with these or what you think should be on this list. These are all American films - so don't dis me 'cause there's no Antonioni!
You'll see that I have 5 musicals on the list. Why? Because the rules of the musical are so difficult to do well. How do you get people to sing out loud? And, if they do sing can you still make a film with dark overtones?
- The Cameraman (1928) Buster Keaton knew better than Chaplin how film worked as a medium. Some of the best movies are about the act of watching or making of movies.
This one belongs in that category.
- 42nd Street (1933) Busby Berkely is still being quoted today. He had the brains to put the camera just about everywhere. And he had one goal: to top himself.
- The Lady Eve (1941) Preston Sturges could do no wrong when he was in the zone in from 1940 - 1944. No one does dialog like this anymore. Juno got close.
- Casablanca (1942) Just another picture made by the Hollywood studio system. But this one endures. Why? There's a clue in the song that Sam plays, "It's still the same old story - a fight for love and glory - a tale of do or die." If your movie doesn't doesn't do that - it's not a memorable movie. Lesson to screenwriters: Be audacious and go to the end of the line - do or die.
- To Be or Not To Be (1942) If only to appreciate Jack Benny and the great Carole Lombard - this is a farce perfectly realized.
- It's a Wonderful Life (1946) You've seen it, right? If you haven't - take someone you love. Sure, it's a happy ending but there's a lot of darkness too.
- My Darling Clementine (1946) Henry Fonda was never better. A well paced film. Perfect scenes that start in the middle. The dialog is forgotten afterwards but the images linger.
- Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Elia Kazan directed the Broadway show and this film. He doesn't try to cinema-ize the film. He knows this is a showcase for Brando and Vivien Leigh (his favorite actress - he told me himself!). Brando's performance changed film acting forever. Raw. Real. Effeminate but virile.
- Anatomy of A Murder. (1959) One of Otto Preminger's best. The objective camera. As a TV producer, I can't imagine doing any shoot without getting "coverage." The amazing thing is that Preminger never had to shoot coverage. All the information was in his compositions and tracking shots.
- Pyscho (1960) Always experimenting this guy, Hitchcock. "I know, I'll kill off the star in the first reel!"
- The Apartment (1960) I love this screenplay. So economical. Nothing extraneous. Fred McMurray doing a great "banality of evil" riff.
- West Side Story (1961)/The Sound of Music (1965) Basically the same movie - not in terms of content - but in form. Robert Wise directed with an editor's mind. He was Orson Welles' editor for years. See how the edits work so damn well.
- 2001 (1968) Just so you know what people are talking about when they talk about the apes and the monolith. And, there is no better match dissolve then when that bone flies up. Dave?
- Planet of the Apes (1968) One of the best ending shots of all time. Bonus: Best use of a leather vest on an ape.
- McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
Robert Altman makes a western and sets it in a brothel. Strange, genre-bending, cynical, and dark. No one would ever make this movie today. 'Tis a pity.
- Cabaret (1972) Bob Fosse adapted the stage play perfectly. From the first song - he broke the rules and made the songs of the cabaret the back drop not the main event.
- The Conversation (1974) Coppola's favorite movie. Harry Caul is a voyeur and is slightly nauseated with himself. Sounds like a modern movie goer to me.
- Jaws (1975) I was scared to swim in a pool after I saw in this in East Hampton, LI on opening night in the 70's. It changed the big movie opening weekend forever.
- New York New York (1977) Imagine if Mean Streets was a musical. A real genre stretcher. Fascinating failure and worth watching. A blend of artifice and reality.
- Manhattan (1979) Woody Allen is funny. Duh. But see how his technique of long takes and beautiful compositions (with Gordon Willis' superb cinematography) wax the lane to make us hear those one liners so well.
- Raging Bull (1980) You just keep asking...How did they (Scorcese, DeNiro, Pesci, Chapman and Schoonmaker) do this?
- Pennies from Heaven (1981) Herbert Ross put everything he knew about movies, musicals, and song and dance into this film and turned it all upside down. Christopher Walken is the scene stealer.
- Tootsie (1982) Another great screenplay. It's all about subtext and not being "on the nose" with dialogue... Last line (from memory): "You know that blue dress that you look great in? (pause) Can I borrow it?"
- Boogie Nights (1997) The first half of this film is pure genius and maybe that was the point of this film as well. Great second acts in Hollywood are rare.
- Citizen Kane, Chinatown, Apocalypse Now, Rear Window, Pulp Fiction, Network - Your pick!