Monday, January 31, 2011

Let the Countdown Begin! My 100 Favorite Films: From 100 to 91

The idea of listing one's 100 favorite movies seems daunting, unrealistic, and a wee pompous. First, I find it almost impossible to settle on a "top 100"--I'm always thinking of a fave I forgot to include. Furthermore, the definition of "favorite" seems to fluctuate based on my age and state of mind. And yet...I admit that I'm intrigued with lists, especially the countdown variety. I guess I'm just a list kind of guy.

During the Christmas holidays, I found a list of my favorite movies, which I'd compiled many years ago. To my surprise, about 70% of the films were still ones I enjoy watching every year or two. I thought it might be amusing to revise my list and do a monthly series of posts where I count down my faves from #100 to #1. Several of the films are ones I've reviewed at the Cafe, while others are pretty obscure.

My film tastes are pretty eclectic, so my favorites feature performers as diverse as Errol Flynn, Spencer Tracy, Deborah Kerr, Hayley Mills, and Bruce Lee (in fact, I list at least two films by each of those stars). There are Hammer films, foreign-language films, Disney, and Hitchcock. And there are robots, gargoyles, soldier ants, and even "humanimals." Let me stress that these are not what I consider the greatest films ever made (though some of them are). Rather, they are just one film buff's favorites.

Sadly, there were a handful of movies that just missed out on a place on the list. These honorable mentions include Trinity Is Still My Name, Young and Innocent, The Flim Flam Man, Body Heat, The Fury, Cornered, The Five Man Army, Repeat PerformanceStar Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Random Harvest. And now, it's my proud pleasure to count down 100-91:

100. Ten Little Indians (1965)/John Carpenter’s The Thing - I know, I've already cheated by starting with a tie so I could squeeze in 101 favorite films. But the truth is that these two films both feature a setting and premise that have always appealed to me: an isolated snowy location and a murderer that could be anyone. I know plenty of movie lovers are aghast that I didn't pick the more renowned And Then There Were None. However, it's not set on a snow-covered mountain...and doesn't have a "murder minute."

99. Rocky - The variable quality of the sequels doesn't diminish the original, which presents a gritty, winning underdog story. Whenever it's on TV (which is a lot), I find myself compelled to watch it from whatever point I join the plot.

Natalie Wood recites Wordsworth.
98. Splendor in the Grass - OK, I admit it...I first saw this on the late show when I was around 18 and got the sniffles during the bittersweet closing scene. Natalie Wood is painfully vulnerable as an emotionally fragile young woman in love with Warren Beatty (who has problems of his own) during the late 1920s. A poignant script by the marvelous William Inge has Natalie quoting Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood (the source of the title).

97. My Cousin Rachel - Atmospheric adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's haunting novel stars Richard Burton as an intense young man who falls in love with his new aunt (Olivia de Havilland)--even though he suspects her of murdering his uncle. Set among the rocky beaches of Cornwall with its crashing waves (I strongly recommend watching it at the beach).

Diane Lane in Streets of Fire.
96. Streets of Fire - Walter Hill's “rock n’roll fable” is a stylized blend of action, romance, and terrific music set in “another place, another time.” The plot seems lifted from a 1950s biker film, but the sometimes corny dialogue recalls “B” Westerns of the same period. Ignored for years, it's finally been recognized as a cult film, which is a small victory for dedicated fans like me.

95. Inherit the Wind - I love a good courtroom drama (there will be others on my list) and this is one of the best. The case, based on the "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925, certainly holds one's interest. However, what lingers are the brilliant performances of Spencer Tracy and Fredric March--plus the film's fascinating portrait of public opinion and the men that try to shape it.

94. The Best Man - Gore Vidal's sharply-observed look inside American politics stars Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson as rivals fighting for their party's presidential nomination circa 1964. Both candidates harbor secrets that can destroy their political aspirations and their loved ones. This gripping drama features a stellar cast and a most satisfying and realistic conclusion.

Peggy Cummins as the carnival sharp-
shooter with more ambitious plans.
93. Gun Crazy (aka Deadly Is the Female) - Bart (John Dahl) is a young man who has been obsessed with guns. After a troubled childhood, he appears to have gotten his life in order when he falls head over heels for Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), a carnival sharpshooter who's nothing but trouble. This classic "B" film noir was the career highpoint for both its stars, who are simply marvelous and generate plenty of sparks. An obvious inspiration for the later Bonnie and Clyde...though I much prefer Gun Crazy.

92. Greyfriars Bobby - This forgotten British Disney film may be the finest examination of the special bond between humans and dogs. The plot is based on the amazing true story of a loyal Skye Terrier who slept on his master’s grave in an Edinburgh cemetery every night for 14 years. The low-wattage cast, featuring Donald Crisp and Laurence Naismith, gives sincere performances and the heartfelt story never turns maudlin.

Scary-looking and hard to kill...
because they're dead!
91. Jason and the Argonauts - The first 45 minutes establishes the backstory for this version of the Greek myth about the Golden Fleece. It's all quite well done, but once our heroes set foot on the island of Bronze, the movie becomes a magical experience courtesy of Ray Harryhausen's sensational special effects. Every fan has their favorite Harryhausen sequence, but my top two are both from Jason:  the capture of the winged Harpies and Jason's dual with the "dragon's teeth"--or as I call it--the breath-taken swordfight with the skeletons.

Next month, I'll count down 90-81, which will include the first of multiple list appearances by Alfred Hitchcock and Hammer Films, plus the place I'd like to take my wife for a second honeymoon.

12 comments:

  1. Rick, My favorite film from your list so far is, Gun crazy. I loved the scenes of Annie and Bart driving, shot from the back seat of the car, as if we were part of the action. I also, loved the really funny banter back and forth between them. Not to forget to mention... the great twist at the end. Great film!!

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  2. Dawn, another great scene in GUN CRAZY is when Bart joins Annie on stage at the carnival. Her look when he accepts her trick-shooting challenge is priceless--you can "see" her thinking that here is a guy that really interests me. Ditto for Bart for he watches her shoot for the first time on stage. Dall and Cummins had tremendous chemistry in that film.

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  3. Interesting list so far, Rick. I haven't seen a few on the list, but am familiar with most. Of the ten listed (but really 11 LOL), I'd only select Rocky for my own list--and it would be much higher. LOL! Still, everyone has their reasons...

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  4. Great start, Rick. Inherit the Wind is actuallly one of my top 20 or so, and you know I love Jason and the Argonauts!

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  5. I'll be looking forward to the rest of your list. I've never seen "Greyfairs Bobby" or that version of "Ten Little Indians." Or, and please don't yell at me, "Splendor in the Grass." Sounds like some good titles to track down.

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  6. Kevin, TEN LITTLE INDIANS is undoubtedly not for all tastes (hey, it features Fabian as one of the victims!). But I always liked Shirley Eaton, Agatha Christie's plot is awesome(especially the first time around), and the snowy setting is much more fun than an island or dessert (as in earlier and later versions).

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  7. Rick, I admire your perseverance to list favorite films. That would be a challenge to do! But finding that about 70% of the movies you had chosen are ones you see regularly and truly enjoy revisiting makes for strong contenders for top status. I cannot tell you how much fun it is when I happen to be channel switching and come across an old favorite and am simply unable to turn away.

    I have seen every film in these 10/11 (sounds a bit like the Big Ten which became Eleven and I think is now Twelve, yikes!) on your list. The Cafe has discussed several of these already and will discuss one this month so I will focus on two I can't recall being mentioned. "The Best Man" is excellent. I expected to like Henry Fonda but was surprised by how well I also liked Cliff Robertson in this. The politician's wives are also interesting to observe. "Inherit the Wind" is fascinating to study from a legal perspective. Today the same story would most likely have supporters from a different perspective and that makes it intriguing as well. Great post and I look forward to the next ten in your countdown!

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  8. Yikes! How were you ever able to compile the list and not keep changing the order? And thanks for reminding me of "Greyfriars Bobby" - a fondly remembered film I should see again. I look forward to the rest of your list!

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  9. Toto, INHERIT THE WIND--like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL--contains themes that never seem to date. FlickChick, if I examined my list closely tomorrow, I'd probably change the order and/or replace some movies!

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  10. Rick, I, too, like the isolated snowy settings. John Carpenter's THE THING is a favorite. (Another good one is THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS.) Looking forward to next month's continuation!

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  11. Sark, there's at least one other movie with a snowy setting on the list (and it's not ICE STATION ZEBRA...though I do like it).

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  12. GUN CRAZY is one of my favorite noirs filled with great camera work (the bank robbery scene when the couple drive into town) and sexual symbolism. Agree fully on INHERIT THE WIND, wonderful performances and a great courtroom drama.ROCKY is a good film for what it is and a fan favorite, but it has irked me for years that this film won Best Picture over TAXI DRIVER and NETWORK. Of the five films nominated that year IMO, it is the weakest in my humble opinion. SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS and TEN LITTLE INDIANS, I have not seen in years and need to revisit.

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