With my mouth agape, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Say that again,” I stated, with my voice raising an octave.
“I just haven’t seen that film; I really haven’t watched many movies at all,” she replied with an air of nonchalance.
“You have led a very sheltered life,” I returned politely. At least, it was meant to be polite. But also there was a bit of challenge in my voice. Would my co-worker take the bait?
“You’re always quoting movies, and referring to movies. Tell you what – put together a list of 20 movies, and I will watch all of them.”
Create a list of films for someone who wants to learn more about the art and magic of movies. Sounds easy, until I really began to think about it.
And then it dawned on me…just 20 films? And which ones for someone who has never really not only appreciated film, but really experienced the art, the passion, the emotion and genius that has been created over the many decades of cinema. Do I dare include Kubrick, Lynch and Malick in my recommendations? Or do I save them for the next list, the advanced course if you will?
Then I tried to compile my list. First pass = 60+ films; second pass = 44. Oh my God! How do I get rid of classics like Casablanca? Or Do The Right Thing? How can I not include some modern day classics like Stand By Me, Shawshank Redemption, The Princess Bride, or even this year’s Hugo? Then I was forced to start asking did I really bite off more than I could chew? So many options, so many reasons to include or not include films … Final pass = 25 choices … close enough; after all, what’s five more films, right?
So first – some parameters for my fellow film-buffs and cinephiles:
This is not my top 25 list. This is not all-time top 20 list. I don’t care to create one, as there are already plenty of lists out there worth debating, disagreeing with and destroying in effigy. Rather, this is a list for folks who are not like us, but are wondering what’s all the fuss about in February each and every year, and why is this Oscar guy so important?
So, I am focusing on a starter list that will hopefully raise some curiosity for a second list, or at least inspire a greater appreciation for all the thought and planning (mise-en-scene) that actually goes into film-making. I also have tried to include something from every genre as well, because it’s important to see a little bit of everything so that one can identify likes and dislikes, what works for them, and what doesn’t.
So, here we go – this is a long post, so grab a cup of coffee, or make some time on your lunch break. Here it is – in no particular order, the list with title, genre/category in parenthesis, year it was released and a brief rationale for the choice:
1.Citizen Kane, (drama, mystery) 1941, written, directed by, and starring the original triple threat – Orson Welles. This film is widely considered as the greatest film of all time, and for good reason. Using camera and storytelling techniques so far ahead of it’s time, it’s hard to believe that this film is over 70 years old. If you’re going to create a list – any list – this is one film you need to include, without fail. (And I lied, any list really needs to have Citizen Kane at #1.)
2. The Manchurian Candidate, (drama, mystery, thriller) 1962, starring Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, and one helluva performance by Angela Landsbury. This movie still works for me on so many levels, from the music to the costume to the set pieces – it is a haunting tale of war, politics, and brainwashing. Harvey and Landsbury are absolutely amazing – and Sinatra does a fantastic job of anchoring the whole story. This is – and will always be – on my personal top ten list.
3. Singin’ in the Rain, (musical, comedy, romance) 1952, starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and the delightfully engaging and charming Donald O’Connor, this is quite possibly the best musical of all time. There are so many scenes/numbers that bring a smile to my face, like “Make ‘Em Laugh,” Good Morning,” and “Moses Suposes,” prooving that they really don’t make them like they used to:
4. Rocky, (action, drama, sports) 1976, starring (and written by) Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire and the original Penguin himself, Burgess Meredith, the tagline for the film doubled for Stallone’s chances in Hollywood until that year: His whole life was a million-to-one shot. One of the greatest underdog stories for both Stallone and the title character, Rocky went on to gain 10 Oscar nominations, ultimately winning for Best Director and Best Picture. Plus, it has one of the most recognizable theme songs in motion picture history, thanks to composer Bill Conti. Call me soft, but I still get the chills when he runs up the stairs at the Philadephia Art Museum.
5. Poltergeist, (Horror) 1982, is not only my favorite ghost story of all time, but quite possibly my favorite horror movie of all time. I wrote about this at Halloween time, and invite you to review why.
6-7. The Godfather & Goodfellas, (crime, mafia, drama) 1972 & 1990 respectively represent my two choices for the mafia movies on this list (Honorable Mention to Godfather 2). I know so many people who have an affinity for this genre (Hi Sweetie), and while I respect these films, this genre is just not my favorite. That said, The Godfather is one of the greatest films of all time, and required viewing for everyone. Goodfellas is my first Martin Scorsese film on this list, almost out of sheer respect for the powerhouse performances of DeNiro, Liotta, and Pesci. They absolutely dominate the screen.
8. The Original Star Wars Trilogy (action, sci-fi, fantasy) Star Wars 1977, The Empire Strikes Back 1980, Return of the Jedi 1983 respectively is the only choice for the science fiction genre. George Lucas changed the motion picture history by virtually inventing the special effects industry in Hollywood. This one is an easy addition to the list, and timely too with the recent passing of artist Ralph McQuarrie. Geek-boy history documents that without McQuarrie’s illustrations, 20th Century Fox would never have been green-lit.
9. Jaws, (thriller) 1975, was the trailblazing film that paved the way for Star Wars success in some ways. You see, with Speilberg’s second feature-length film, he produced what would be called the first ever summer blockbuster. Great performances by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw – and the single best use of a chalkboard ever!
10. All The President’s Men, (drama, history, thriller) 1976, might just prove that the 1970’s was one of the best decades for movies ever. Starring Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards, ATPM tells the real-life story of how Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein uncovered one of the grandest conspiracies in U.S. political history. I recently came across this film on AMC not too long ago, and was struck by not only how engaging this story is, but how far (down the drain) journalism has come since the 1970’s.
11. Hugo, (Adventure, Drama, Family) 2011, is not just – in my opinion – the best film of 2011 (sorry The Artist), but it also is the first and only film on this list in 3-D. That’s right, I have selected a 3-D film for this list. That is because in Martin Scorsese’s hands, audiences finally get a chance to see why and how 3-D film-making actually adds to a story, not detracts from it. What this film really is though is an homage, or rather, a love letter to our movie-making past. It should have won best picture this year.
12. Hoosiers, (drama, sport), 1986, starring Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper is another underdog sports movie. So why this one, out of all the other sports movies like Bull Durham or The Natural or Brian’s Song or Rudy … why this one? Two reasons: Gene Hackman, one of the busiest actors in any generation, is fantastically compelling as Coach Norman Dale. He carries the film, period, makes us believe in him and the movie. Reason #2: sentimentally, this was one of the first movie posters I ever owned and I love the sport of basketball. Don’t like the choice, feel free to comment about it below.
13. The Shawshank Redemption, (drama) 1994, is also on my personal top ten list and a contender for Friday’s Weekend Watch segment. From Frank Darabont’s direction, to the onscreen bro-mance of Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, this film honestly has it all. In my opinion, it has the best final lines of a film ever…
14 & 15. Heat & Good Will Hunting, (crime thriller & drama) 1995 & 1997: two films within two years starring Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Minnie Driver, Casey Affleck, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgard, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Mykelti Williamson, Amy Brenneman, and Ashley Judd to name just a few. Not only that, two vastly different films make the same underlying statement: the nuclear family is dead, and we must create and hold onto family in any way possible. Don’t believe me? Come back to the blog in two weeks for the supporting evidence.
16 & 17. The Wild Bunch & Tombstone, (western), 1969 & 1993 are two films in the same genre, but also very different from one another. The Wild Bunch, directed by Sam Peckinpah, ushered in a celebration of comic book type violence – a film that was ahead of its time in that regard. Tombstone, meanwhile, is included for one reason, and one reason alone: Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holiday. Never have I ever experienced such gleeful joy over a movieline as this:
“I’ll be your Huckleberry.”
18. Saving Private Ryan, (drama, war) 1998 gave Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks an opportunity to recognize the heroics of America’s Greatest Generation. It also allowed them to emphatically demonstrate that war is hell. With one of the most harrowing opening scenes in any war movie, audiences follow Hanks as he storms the beach at Normandy. When I first saw this film, I didn’t realize that I had been holding my breath throughout the scene until I gasped aloud a few times. Sheer brutality. Yet, even worse was the up close and personal with death in the climax of the film of Adam Goldberg’s Pvt. Stanley Mellish. It took me five years before I could watch this film a second time. Unforgettable acting performances and story make it a must see, but you have been warned.
19. Se7en, (drama, thriller) 1995, gives us one of the darkest films on the list as seen through the direction of David Fincher. Starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Spacey, the film walks two cops through a serial killers warped mind as he carries out the murder under the pretenses of the seven deadly sins. The twist at the end is downright brutal.
20. The Sixth Sense (drama, mystery, thriller) 1999, launched – for better (Unbreakable, Signs) or worse (everything else) – the career of M. Knight Shyamalan, who has a terrible penchant for casting himself in his own films. Perhaps it is an homage to Hitchcock, but it is distracting, and ineffective. That being said, The Sixth Sense is an effective ghost story, with an equally surprise ending if you -dear co-worker- are not expecting it. Great, great performance by Haley Joel Osment as the tortured child Cole Sear.
“I see dead people.”
21. Chasing Amy (comedy, romance, indie) 1997, is written and directed by Kevin Smith. Now some of you are probably thinking I blew it by choosing Chasing Amy over Clerks – but the truth is that this film represents three different under-served categories on this list: comedy, romance, and independent film. Smith – after his sophomore effort bombed – had to go out on a limb to get this one made. It was a comeback of sorts. Plus – I couldn’t resist getting a fellow Jersey-boy on the list.
22. The Princess Bride (comedy, fantasy, romance) 1987, is a more traditional choice for a comedy and romance film – and for good reason. From Wallace Shawn and Andre the Giant to Peter Falk and Fred Savage, this film has a little bit of everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one winds up on the Weekend Watch list as well.
23. The Professional (action, drama, thriller) 1994, is my choice to represent the action genre. Directed by Luc Besson (one should see La Femme Nikita is they are so inclined as well), this marks the feature film debut of Natalie Portman. I actually remember reviewing this film for my college newspaper’s entertainment section, The Daily Targum’s Inside Beat. I said it then – Portman was amazing and would have a very long career. You know who else owned this film – Gary Oldman…DEAR LORD, that man was fantastic in this film.
24. The Buena Vista Social Club, (documentary) 1999, is my choice to represent the documentary category. There were so many options here, that I just was simply overwhelmed. My first two choices – Super Size Me and Bowling for Columbine – were obvious, and I thought that my co-worker would have seen them already. The Buena Vista Social Club is a great story from a culture that we here in the United States don’t often get exposed to. Then, add to that a soundtrack that even makes this rhythm-less white man want to dance – it is a solid choice in my humble opinion.
25. Amelie, (Foreign, Romance) 2001, is one of the most charming films I have had the pleasure to watch. This French film charmed audiences all over actually, even earning five Oscar nods, including best cinematography and art direction. To me, these nominations are the reason why I have selected the film to be on this list. I still marvel at the phenomenal use of saturated colors in this film – it is striking at times. Plus, the performance of Audrey Tautou throughout the film is absolutely enchanting.
So there it is – 25 must-see films for novice moviewatcher. This was film, and it made me think of films I haven’t seen in years … I am inspired to watch them as soon as possible. But what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Are there glaring oversights or snubs? Let me know in the comments section. In the meantime, to my co-worker – you’ve got work to do…have fun!