Monday, January 11, 2010

My Favorite Films

Since starting this blog in August, I realized I haven't written or compiled any sort of "My Favorite Films of All-Time" list, so I've been working it out over the past week or so and have finally come up with my top 50.

Of course, if you'd have asked me a month ago, it would've looked differently than it does today. I'm always discovering new films and re-thinking and re-ordering old ones. But for now anyways, here they are. Enjoy:

(Stanley Kubrick; 1968; United States)

Its production design and groundbreaking use of make-up and special effects came nearly ten years before Star Wars, but it's Kubrick's balletic space compositions and his grand vision of human evolution (or devolution) that has stood the test of time in the eyes of many cinephiles, including this one.

(Carol Reed; 1949; United Kingdom)

For me, this is quintessential film noir - heightened by Reed's tilted angles and extravagant lighting, Graham Greene's perfectly balanced script about loyalty and friendship and that unforgettable zither score by Anton Karas. It's one of those perfect movie miracles where everything just clicks, including the historic supporting performance of the mysterious Orson Welles.

(Fred Zinneman; 1952; United States)

Criticized by John Wayne for its liberal, "anti-American" allegory to the blacklisting fiasco in Hollywood at the time, Wayne shamefully ran screenwriter Carl Foreman out of town in the late 50's before answering with a more "conservative response" in 1959 with Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo. Different strokes for different folks, but Zinneman's film, with it gritty, black-and-white Tex Ritter sweat and blood, kicks the ass of Wayne and his Ricky Nelson sing-a-long from "California to the New York Island."

(Akira Kurosawa; 1963; Japan)

From the characterizations of Seven Samurai to the heart-warming humanism of Ikiru, I think Kurosawa's greatest two-and-a-half hours were with this contemporary kidnapping-turned-procedural yarn brimming with class structure and moral subtext. A masterclass of frame composition.

(Alain Resnais; 1961; France)

French New Wave meets David Lynch in this hypnotic, lingering and almost numbingly abstract tale of recollection. With the exception of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, it's the most majestic work on this list - inspiring awe in any willing viewer.

(Jean-Pierre Melville; 1967; France)

Alain Delon stars in this stoic, pitch-perfect gangster film chronicling a hitman who lives by a strict code of honor and solitude. It beats even the best crime dramas churned out by Hollywood during the 70's. Melville injects minimalism and coolness in this perfectly-captured lone-warrior journey through the underworld.

(Stanley Kubrick; 1971; USA/United Kingdom)

This ultra-stylized, ultra-violent adaptation of the excellent Anthony Burgess novel was divisive in its day and negatively influential on the youth, but Kubrick's vision and commentary on freedom of choice is undeniably eccentric and hauntingly sadistic - not for everyone. Malcolm McDowell turns in the role of a lifetime complimented by some of the most economical and ingenous location-shooting of his career. The greatest opening shot of all-time.

(Stanley Kubrick; 1975; United Kingdom)

Kubrick's follow-up to A Clockwork Orange was comparatively restrained and glacial in its story of a selfish, exploitative Englishman played by Ryan O'Neal and his rise and fall in 18th century England. Quietly and elegantly, its as visually stimulating as any of the auteur's previous and later works. John Alcott's naturally-lit, washed-out cinematography remains some of the most revered and revolutionary in the history of cinema.

(Martin Scorsese; 1980; United States)

Scorsese's portrait of a madman, real-life boxer Jake La Motto (the abusive and self-abusive Robert De Niro), is an unflinching, stirring, sympathetic and heartbreaking train-wreck of a character study. It's not so much about La Motta's life inside the ring, but rather the one outside of it. Although the former scenes, which faintly resemble any form of the sport we recognize (preferring to capture the feeling of boxing rather than the realities of it), are the best ever committed to the screen.

(Ernst Lubitsch; 1932; United States)

It's time to lighten up, and Ernst Lubitsch's heavenly comedy about a confused, love-torn con-artist/jewel thief is a pure delight. Lubtisch's Hollywood comedies during the 1930's are always characterized as having the "Lubitsch Touch," and this was his first film to carry that distinction for me and kick-start his career of first-rate, sophisticated comedy and romance. It was once described as "pure caviar, only tastier" - that works for me.

11. THE LADY VANISHES (Alfred Hitchcock; 1938)
12. VERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock; 1958)
13. THE THIN MAN (W.S. Van Dyke; 1934)
14. SAWDUST AND TINSEL (Ingmar Bergman; 1953)
(More appropriately and with more beauty, it renders everything Mike Nichols has ever said redundant.)
15. CITIZEN KANE (Orson Welles; 1941)
16. SOME LIKE IT HOT (Billy Wilder; 1959)
17. NOTORIOUS (Alfred Hitchcock; 1946)
(Ingrid Bergman's very best performance.)
18. THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (Ernst Lubitsch; 1940)
19. SEVEN SAMURAI (Akira Kurosawa; 1954)
(Kurosawa writes some of the most believable and interesting characters.)
20. REBECCA (Alfred Hitchcock; 1940)
21. TOUCH OF EVIL (Orson Welles; 1958)
22. BEAT THE DEVIL (John Huston; 1954)
(One of my favorite scripts - written by Truman Capote).
23. ANDREI RUBLEV (Andrei Tarkovsky; 1966)
24. IKIRU (Akira Kurosawa; 1952)
25. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Sergio Leone; 1968)
26. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (Orson Welles; 1942)
(Orson's studio-compromised masterwork still retains its framework.)
27. FITZCARRALDO (Werner Herzog; 1982)
28. JULES AND JIM (Francois Truffaut; 1961)
29. TAXI DRIVER (Martin Scorsese; 1976)
30. ROSEMARY'S BABY (Roman Polanski; 1968)
(A testament to the power of the maternal instinct.)
31. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson; 2007)
32. KLUTE (Alan J. Pakula; 1971)
33. THE GETAWAY (Sam Peckinpah; 1972)
34. STALKER (Andrei Tarkovsky; 1979)
36. DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST (Robert Bresson; 1951)
37. REAR WINDOW (Alfred Hitchcock; 1954)
38. PATHS OF GLORY (Stanley Kubrick; 1957)
(The greatest anti-war movie ever made.)
39. MRS. MINIVER (William Wyler; 1942)
40. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen; 1952)
(Manic, high-wire MGM musical at its best. Jean Hagen is amazing.)
41. THE WAGES OF FEAR (Henri Georges-Cluzout; 19)
42. JEZEBEL (William Wyler; 1938)
(Its on this list for Bette Davis' career-best performance.)
43. CASABLANCA (Michael Curtiz; 1942)
44. THE VIRGIN SPRING (Ingmar Bergman; 1960)
45. ONE-EYED JACKS (Marlon Brando; 1961)
46. PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE (Michael Curtiz; 1944)
47. CONTEMPT (Jean-Luc Godard; 19)
48. THE FRENCH CONNECTION (William Friedkin; 1971)
49. VIRGINIA CITY (Michael Curtiz; 1940)
(One of Curtiz's most adamant examples of the enduring spirit of patriotism.)
50. THE ELEPHANT MAN (David Lynch; 1980)


  1. Great great list! We have much in common and enjoy seeing some love thrown towards Resnais! I reviewed LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (which is jaw-droppingly beautiful on blu-ray, BTW) as a ghost story, tackling the ethereal narrative as an Overlook-ian Hotel where those who walk the carpeted halls...walk alone.

    I'm working my way through the new Criterion Kurosawa set and can't wait to see HIGH AND LOW once again. Those who only know the legendary director for his samurai films are missing his best: DRUNKEN ANGEL, HIGH AND LOW, and IKIRU.

    I reviewed Jim Jarmusch's film GHOST DOG as a parable of Mellville's masterpiece. Watch both on the same night and delight in the homage:)

  2. Yes, I own the Criterion Blu-ray of "Marienbad" - gorgeous. And I'm waiting to buy the Criterion re-release of "High and Low," as I've only seen the original version.

    I'm assuming that the AK25 Box Set uses the same transfer from the re-release for "High and Low"?...

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Awesome list! The Third man fuckin' ROCKS! You into Kubrick or something? Still need to see Barry Lyndon...and a crap load of other movies here, but hey, might just be the nudge I needed.

  4. Great list! Nice to see films like clockwork orange in there! You have a[ new follower.

  5. You left out Dodsworth