Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My 100 Favorite Films: From 90 to 81

Last month, I covered 100-91 of my favorite movies. This month, the countdown continues with a mix of suspense, comedy, horror, and romance! (An underlined title means there's a hyperlink to a full review at the Cafe.)

Gene Tierney's Ellen--so lovely
and apparently normal.
90. Leave Her to Heaven - Gene Tierney as a possessive, cold-hearted murderer? It's brilliant casting in a film with some genuine chilling moments (e.g., the drowning scene). It may be Tierney's best performance, as she slowly reveals her character’s true nature. Her most impressive feat, though, is that despite what her character has done, we never doubt that she really does love her husband.

89. A Shot in the Dark - Peter Sellers first appeared as Inspector Clouseau in a supporting role in The Pink Panther. But he perfected Clouseau in this perfect farce, which amazingly was based on a stage play without Clouseau. The scene of Clouseau bungling through a nudist camp is a comedy classic--but Sellers is just as funny trying to walk through a door. Herbert Lom is delightful as Chief Inspector Dreyfus...who would have thought he could be so funny?

88. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave - As many of you know, I'm a fan of Hammer's horror films. This fourth entry in the studio's Dracula series features well-developed characters, a lively story, interesting themes, and stunning color photography (the director was award-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis). It's not my favorite Hammer vampire film, but closely edges out Kiss of the Vampire and Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter.

Uncle Charlie and his favorite
87. Shadow of a Doubt - Alfred Hitchcock collaborated with Thorton Wilder to create this fascinating portrait of a "Merry Widow" killer hiding out with his sister's family in a small California town. Alternatingly charming and creepy, Joseph Cotten gives his finest performance, but it's the naturalness of the supporting players--especially Teresa Wright as Cotten's niece--that makes the film work. Its power, though, comes from its theme of evil laying underneath of the surface of small town Americana.

86. Enchanted April - Four British women, who desperately need a break from their monotonous lives, rent an Italian villa. During the month they spend together, they learn about each other, gain insight into themselves and their loved ones, and emerge with a new outlook on life. This uplifting film makes its points subtly and benefits from an ideal cast featuring Miranda Richardson and Joan Plowright. I love how the London scenes are photographed in drab, brownish tones, while the color seems to explode when the story shifts to Italy. As for the setting, my wife and I want to take a vacation there!

85. 12 Angry Men – I read the play in high school long before I saw the film adaptation—and yet, knowing the plot’s outcome didn’t lessen its impact at all. I’m always amused when a film critic notes that a movie adaptation of a play failed to “open it up.” To me, a movie can take place entirely in one room—as this one mostly does—and be utterly gripping. Henry Fonda shines as an Everyman forced to take a stand against the rest of a jury, but there are many superb performances in this insightful examination of our justice system.

Does her daughter Bunny
really exist?
84. Bunny Lake Is Missing – A young American woman, recently transplanted to London, claims that her daughter has been kidnapped…but no one can remember having seen the girl. Director Otto Preminger’s last great film surprisingly recalls his first classic, Laura. Both films begin as conventional crime dramas dealing with kidnapping or murder. But an unexpected plot twist takes each film in a different direction. An underrated gem.

83. A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven) – Because of a Heavenly mistake, an RAF pilot (David Niven) survives a crash and falls in love. Unwilling to go to Heaven, he argues before a celestial tribunal that he should be allowed in live out his life on Earth. This perceptive, haunting fantasy from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger lingers long after the closing credits. The incredible set design and Powell’s use of color are justifiably famous, but it’s the performances—especially those by Niven and Roger Livesey as his friend-turned-lawyer—that give the film its heart.

Lady and the Tramp dine to the
lovely song "Bella Notte."
82. Lady and the Tramp – Disney’s canine twist on Romeo and Juliet is an animated delight, with brilliant animation, sparkling characters, and memorable songs (courtesy of Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke).  What I love most about it is the film’s “dog’s-eye view” of the world, such as the way that Tramp gets his dinner.

81. Whistle Down the Wind - In rural England, three children discover a fugitive in their barn and come to believe that he is Jesus. This unique film works as both a religious allegory and an intelligent look into the world of children. Hayley Mills and Alan Bates give powerful performances. Based on the novel by Hayley's mother, Mary Hayley Bell, who also wrote the screenplay. Andrew Lloyd Webbers transformed it into a stage musical that never made it to Broadway.

Next month, I'll count down 80-71, which will include the first of multiple list appearances by Errol Flynn, plus a made-for-TV horror film, Dirk Bogarde, and Sam Peckinpah.


  1. I am really enjoying your lists, Rick. Your descriptions of the movies manage to create interest and be informative in very short summaries -- that is hard to do!

    The only one I have not seen in this list is Enchanged April. I like all the rest, particularly Leave Her to Heaven (Tierney's best acting, in my opinion), 12 Angry Men, and Shadow of a Doubt. Oh, and of course The Lady and the Tramp!

  2. Rick, I'm also enjoying reading your favorite movie lists. The movies I have not seen from your list so far are: A Shot in the Dark, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and A Matter of Life and Death.

  3. I am loving your list so much! You have great taste! And congratulations for sticking with it -my New Years Resolutions have already gone down the drain!

  4. Rick, it is really fun watching you count down your favorite films! Many of these entries have been discussed at the Cafe so I will focus on some that haven't.

    "12 Angry Men" is a fascinating look at a jury after the fact. We aren't privy to the court case as it unfolds, except as it is brought up in the jury room. The story reminds us that society wants someone to pay when a crime is committed.

    "Bunny Lake is Missing" has a similar vein. A "mother" must prove she has a daughter in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Carol Lynley and Keir Dullea are both outstanding.

    "Whistle Down the Wind" may be the least known film on this list. Its captivating story focuses on the innocence and faith of children. It is extremely thought-provoking.

    Great choices, Rick!

  5. Wonderful selection of films in the 90-81 range, Rick! I agree wholeheartedly about Gene Tierney's performance in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, particularly the memorable sequence you mention. DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE: Strong entry in Hammer's "Dracula" series; I love the rooftop scenes! 12 ANGRY MEN: The quintessential "jury film." I can't watch a movie or TV episode in a jury room and not think of this film; even in true crime shows, when they show the jury returning to the courtroom, I'm keeping an eye out for the foreman to see if he looks like Martin Balsam. BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING: As you said, it's most definitely underrated. There was an unofficial remake some years ago (I can't specify without giving away plot details), but it could not retain suspense and intrigue in the same way as Otto Preminger's movie.

    These have been very fun to read, Rick. It's interesting to not only read your capsule reviews, but to also see your wide range of taste in films!

  6. Love Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven...I was shocked she was so evil! The same goes for Cotton in Shadow of a Doubt.

    Shot in the Dark is a good film too.

    12 Angry Men is a really good film. It makes you feel so claustrophobic and Fonda plays the everyman so well.

    Lady in the Tramp and A Matter of Life and Death are classics as well.

    I'm not familiar with the rest..except Enchanted April--not a favorite of mine, but to each their own! Look forward to reading the next 10 on your list.

  7. Fine list. Really need to see "Bunny Lake Is Missing", I've heard nothing but good things about it.

    Glad to see the Hammer title there too. It's a beautiful film to look at. It's a splendid example of a fairy tale on film that doesn't use an actual fairy tale as source material, if that makes any sense.

  8. Dawn, you gotta see A SHOT IN THE DARK, which contains some priceless sight gags. I think you and Becky would enjoy ENCHANTED APRIL, which was shown on TCM for the first time last year (Kim, how could you not like it?). Toto, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND is indeed thought-provoking; I keep waiting for it to be released in the U.S. on DVD. Sark and Kevin, how delightful to read positive comments about DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE! The rooftop scenes are my favorite part of the movie. Kevin, I love your description of it as a fairy tale! As for 2011 resolutions, ChickFlick, I've got 80 movies to go...guess we'll see if I make it!

  9. A great list, Rick, many favorites of my own have shown up so far (mine aren't in order yet, tho) - on this portion of your list: "Leave Her to Heaven," "Shadow of a Doubt" and "Lady and the Tramp."
    One of the most fascinating aspects of "Leave Her to Heaven" for me is its Oscar-nominated art direction/interior decoration. Dizzyingly dazzling! Also wonderfully photographed - its sole Oscar win was for cinematography. This John Stahl film seems a clear forerunner to Douglas Sirk's films of the mid to late '50s.
    I've written a few times about "Shadow of a Doubt" and consider it one of Hitchcock's best.
    And "Lady and the Tramp" - one of the first Disney animated films I remember seeing. Who can resist Disney + dogs???? It might be my favorite of all Disney's animated features.
    Can't wait to see what films turn up in your next installment...

  10. Eve, the color photography in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN looks amazing! There's a great little docu on the DVD where they show the print before and after restoration. The color just pops out in the restored print.

  11. great choices, RICK...I winced at first when I saw ENCHANTED APRIL, then realized it was the MIKE NEWELL version...very rare that a remake is better than the original....thinking of THE FRONT PAGE!!

  12. Doc, after I posted this list, I almost added the year for ENCHANTED APRIL because I remembered about the earlier version (which I haven't seen). Hey, I think there may be some legitimate wincing about some of my choices for next month!