52 Films I'll Watch Again and Again

By Bill Anderson 


Back Up Next

 EN00500A.gif (2038 bytes)   

There are many films that I have enjoyed very much but have no desire ever to see again. ("Forrest Gump," "Speed," and "The Fugitive" come to mind.) My appreciation of certain other films, e.g. "Night of the Hunter" and "Raising Arizona," grows with repeated viewings. I’ve lurked through many lists of best movies, worst movies, stupidest movies, etc. in the Internet newsgroups over the years, but I believe I’ve never seen a list with the theme "Films To Watch Again and Again." So I’ve decided it’s time to create a list of my own. Remember now, this isn’t a comprehensive list of every wonderful film ever made. My primary reason for recommending these films is that they are movies I’d watch again in a heartbeat, especially if I discover a friend who hasn’t seen one and I have an opportunity to share a "first viewing" experience.

EN00495A.gif (2756 bytes)What makes a film "watchable" again and again? For me, there’s no simple answer. In some cases, as with "Casablanca," the structure of the film invites a second look. Understanding Sam’s reluctance when Ilsa tells him to "Play ‘As Time Goes By,’" an insight the first-time viewer doesn’t have, makes the scene even more exciting the second time through. In other cases a film may have entertained me so much that I want to look for things I may have missed the first time. But there are some characteristics most of these films have in common. These are films that made me want to talk to someone after viewing. These are films that stimulated me. Some made me laugh or cry. Some helped me reflect on my life so far. A few made me consider the human condition. These are films that got under my skin in some way – they are films I want to share with people I love or admire. And by posting my list, perhaps I’ll share some of them even with you.

EN00499A.gif (2449 bytes)You’ll find my tastes are eclectic, and, I’m afraid, mostly mainstream. There aren’t many obscure films here, though I hope you’ll find a few you’re unfamiliar with. My comments aren’t intended to be thorough movie reviews. Instead, I hope they’ll pique your interest if you haven’t seen a film, and evoke a fond memory if you have.  I hope you enjoy reading my list as much as I’ve enjoyed compiling it. I’ve tried to avoid spoiling any films by revealing too much about their plots. The films are listed in alphabetical order because I couldn’t bring myself to put them in order of preference.


The African Queen

This one’s unique. The photography often makes it look like a travelogue, but it’s one of the most captivating adventure/love stories ever put on film. Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn cruising down the river. Taking care of the gin. Over the rapids. Past the bullets. Through the swamp. Among the leeches. "It’s no wonder you love boating, Mr. Alnutt." And guess who comes to the rescue! This is an epic quest, the kind of tale humans have been spinning since we learned to talk. Movies don’t get much better than this.


Alexander Nevsky

The acting is creaky, perhaps, and the story is slow to develop. But you’ll never see a film more magnificently staged and photographed. And, come to think of it, maybe that story is pretty compelling after all. A Russian classic by Sergei Eisenstein with music by Prokofiev. High art. And a good movie. Black & white in Russian with English subtitles.


American Graffiti

Did a sense of loss come over you around the time you finished high school? Did you experience an empty feeling that came with knowing your childhood had ended and not knowing exactly what was beginning? You and the friends of a lifetime were about to go your separate ways. Your high school wasn’t really YOUR high school anymore. And there were so many familiar, comfortable activities that were no longer appropriate for you. George Lucas reminded me of it all in this film about one magical night cruising the strip in a small California town in 1962. I wonder if this film also strikes a responsive chord in kids who graduated in the ‘70s? ‘80s? ‘90s?


Angel Heart

Harry Angel, you should have known better than to hang around with a guy named Lou Cypher. Didn’t you detect just a little whiff of brimstone? Some private eye you are! Stop and think, Harry; who is killing all those folks you’ve been talking to? And why? Are you sure you want to find out? This film took me to places I’d never been, and as the revelations piled up my jaw dropped, well, as far as a jaw can drop. "Angel Heart" fascinates me as much on subsequent viewings as it did the first time through, when I was as mystified as Harry. And that elevator just keeps going down…


Animal Crackers (Or Any Early Marx Brothers Film)

The early Marx Brothers films are reliably delightful. "Monkey Business." "Duck Soup." Doesn’t matter. They’re all full of amazing anarchy. "Hello, I must be going." "One night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know." The plots and the supporting actors are sometimes creaky and always irrelevant. Just sit back and let the brothers have their way with you. "Hooray for Captain Spaulding!"


Animal House

Life as a student in a small liberal arts college can get mighty strange. Believe me, I know. For the 1962 denizens of Faber College, childhood is in the past, adult responsibilities are in the future, and authority exists only to be mocked. "Animal House" hilariously skewers campus life and societal attitudes in the pre-Vietnam 1960’s. I’ve watched it so many times I’ve begun to wonder about minutiae like the Tennessee state flag in the background of the "trial" scene. I’ve also read the book and learned the real reason one of the characters is nicknamed "Pinto." (It’s not the reason John Belushi gives in the movie.) But I’ve stopped looking for deep meanings behind details like the girls wearing copies of the pink outfit Jackie Kennedy wore in Dallas, and now, whenever I have a chance to see this one again, I just rock along with Otis Day and the Knights and have a great time.



This is a modern classic children’s film, and as with all classic children’s films, "Babe" will charm adults too. I’m a sucker for a play with a Greek chorus…especially if the chorus is composed of singing mice. I was hooked when Babe surmised that the trucks were taking his mother and the other big pigs to Heaven. (It must be a wonderful place, because, after all, nobody ever comes back.) "That’ll do pig."


Back to the Future

I think some movies are perfect. By that I simply mean that given the chance, I wouldn’t change a frame. This is one of those movies. The structure of the film is convoluted and full of surprises, but always easy to follow. The first quarter or so of the film is all setup for gags to come later. The viewer must be alert, because there’s a payoff for virtually everything that’s said or done. This film demonstrates better than any history book that as the decades pass, our understanding of the world changes in ways we don’t immediately comprehend. Watch as a 1955 character demands a time traveler tell him who is President of the United States in 1985. His reaction, upon hearing it’s Ronald Reagan, is priceless.



This film played a trick on me. When I watched it the first time I thought it was an excellent, edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller. When I watched it a second time, I realized it was a comedy through and through. Lots of sex and violence, and lots of fun. It’s a complicated story, but after talking it over with friends, we couldn’t find a single hole in the plot. And now I’m in love with Jennifer Tilly. Well, at least I’m in love with her voice. And don’t forget: After you’ve seen this once, watch it again. Knowing what’s going to happen makes it a totally different, and in some ways more enjoyable movie.



Another perfect movie. Also, another prime example of a movie that gets better with multiple viewings. A few lines from Casablanca have become as much a part of the English language as the words of Shakespeare. "Round up the usual suspects!" "I’m shocked, shocked!" "I was misinformed." Heck, Casablanca has even given popular culture a line that wasn’t in the movie: "Play it again, Sam." Why do we love this film? Action. Intrigue. Love. Betrayal. Loyalty. Redemption. And, most important, Dooley Wilson performs "As Time Goes By." You’ve got to like this one. After all, "Everybody comes to Rick’s."



Smart film noir draws me in every time. This film is one of the smartest. What casting! The star of the film is 1930’s Los Angeles. Jack Nicholson is the flawed good guy, Jake Gittes. Film legend John Huston is the bad guy. The theme is the exercise of power. When Jake was slapping Faye Dunaway, my dismay matched his when we both suddenly understood exactly what she was saying. Few movie moments equal that one for provoking sheer astonishment mixed, finally, with horrified comprehension.


A Christmas Story

This isn’t exactly a story from my own childhood, but I identify with it just the same. "You’ll shoot your eye out!" "Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra!" Santa’s big black boot. "Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time." The dreaded Scott Farkas. "Only I didn’t say ‘fudge.’" The tongue on the flagpole. And the presents under that beautiful tree. Ralphie, you make me feel like a kid every time I see this film.


Citizen Kane

Sure, "Citizen Kane" unscrupulously savages publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, but who cares about scruples when you can experience film direction as stylish and a story as fascinating at this! Welles deserves every accolade he’s received for using "Citizen Kane" to redefine the art of the motion picture. And he was just a kid when he made it! Hearst wouldn’t allow this film to be mentioned in his papers. He probably was just envious of the life of Charles Foster Kane.


City Lights

I have a LaserDisc of this film and I often play it just to listen to the music Chaplin composed for "City Lights." The score on the LaserDisc has been re-recorded by a modern orchestra in high quality stereo, and meticulously synchronized with the action on the screen. Did I mention this is a silent film? If you’re put off by that, lean a little closer so I can slap some sense into you. Watch this film to understand why Chaplin’s Tramp, his "little fellow," is to this day one of the most famous personages in the world. Chaplin was a rare genius, and his films are unique. The film is a series of vignettes, all interesting, some hilarious, involving the Tramp’s efforts to secure an eye operation for a beautiful blind girl. Trust me: You will enjoy this film and you will likely shed major tears at the end.


Destry Rides Again

Jimmy Stewart plays the greenhorn with more backbone than you might expect, and Marlene Dietrich plays Frenchy, the saloon singer with the heart of cayenne pepper. Remember Madeline Kahn in "Blazing Saddles"? Frenchy is the character she was spoofing. This is a classic Western: humor, action, romance, intrigue, loyalty, betrayal, and Jimmy Stewart. What more do you need?



No, not that awful thing with Sharon Stone. The original. In French. In black and white. With English subtitles. With the ending that is followed by a plea not to reveal what has just happened. I love a film that sucks me in and fools me and ultimately makes me glad I’ve been fooled. I won’t tell you what happens in the original. I will tell you that if you saw the recent remake, you were cheated. Big time.



This is the quintessential Disney cartoon: brief, engaging, and profound – storytelling at its finest. Where "Snow White" doesn’t make the cut (begins with rapidly developing melodramatic plot, pauses for most of an hour to allow forest creatures and midgets to play cute, and wraps up quickly), "Dumbo" spins its wise lesson with elegant timing and charming characters. We all can use that magic feather once in a while.


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

I like good fantasies, and this is one of the best. Watching this film I become a seventeen-year-old again, only this time I have fun. For one thing, I get to live the most perfect day of my life. Of anybody’s life. Cut school with my best friend and my best girl. Visit Chicago. Drive a Ferrari. A Ferrari convertible. A classic red Ferrari convertible. Look down on the city from the top of the Sears Tower. View great works of art. Catch a home run in Wrigley Field. Eat at an elegant restaurant. Humiliate the supercilious maitre ‘d. Humiliate the pathetic school principal. Sing "Danke Schoen" and "Twist and Shout" from a parade float while downtown Chicago falls at my feet. Win my hateful sister over to my side. All this, and my loving parents never catch on. Oh wow. I think I’ll stop writing and go watch it again. And this time, Ferris, can we visit "Pizzeria Uno?"


Field of Dreams

I was late coming to the realization that baseball is the only professional sport worthy of my attention. Ted Turner began showing Atlanta Braves games nearly every evening in the summers, and I began tuning in more and more often. The ebb and flow of the baseball season worked its magic on me and I was hooked. This film, rich in wonder and whimsy, is about that magic. It offers us baseball as religion. "If you build it, they will come." I did.


The General

It’s silent movie time again. Buster Keaton was a genius, and this 1927 film is his greatest work. It also contains one of the most eye-popping special effects ever put on film Even better, it’s not a special effect. The scene involves a train, a trestle and a fire. "The General" is an American Civil War story about the theft of a locomotive and its engineer’s dogged determination to rescue it. Keaton is perfect.


I'll watch "Ghost" with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore and yes, Whoopi Goldberg, any time it's on, all the way to the end, starting anywhere in the film, I don't care, just let me see those goblins carry off the bad guy and oh boy look at that floating penny, and please let's hear "Unchained Melody" one more time, and .... I am so ashamed.

Godfather I & II

Back in 1972 I was much too intellectual to be interested in a movie based on a pulp novel. Then I was dragged to see "The Godfather" and my outlook on popular entertainment changed forever. If "The Godfather" was outstanding, how could "Godfather II" be better? I dunno, but it is. It’s a story of family, and it illustrates how the sins of the fathers, even loving fathers, will cast tragedy across the generations. Steer clear of part III, a redundant tale that begged never to be made.


The Gods Must Be Crazy

What an unlikely film to recommend. It resembles nothing else on this list, or anybody else’s list for that matter. It appears to have been made on the cheap in South Africa, and it features a number of tired movie clichés, e.g. undercranking, cheesy narration, and stereotypical characters. Nevertheless, this film contains some of the funniest, most meticulously constructed sight gags I’ve ever seen. I never thought I’d bend double laughing at a Jeep.


Gone With the Wind

I go back and forth on this one. "Gone With the Wind" was reissued when I was just a kid, and all my parents’ friends were talking about how they loved this definitive romantic tale of the War Between the States. So my level of anticipation was high when my folks took me downtown to see it at the old Loews State Theater in Memphis. I was not disappointed. It was one of my first *adult* films, and I was swept away by the story and the music and the Technicolor cinematography and the sheer power of the melodrama. (A few days later, when I tried to obtain the book at the library, I actually had to get special permission to check it out with my juvenile library card.) I must have read the book ten times during junior high and high school. After I graduated college the movie was re-reissued, and I took a date to see it. She hated it and so did I. I couldn’t believe I’d ever enjoyed such an overwrought potboiler. Then, some years later, Ted Turner restored the print to its original glory and I watched it on television. This time I deemed it a masterpiece. So, "Gone With the Wind" meets my primary criterion for inclusion in this list: I’ll watch it again. But frankly, I don’t know whether I’ll give a damn.


High Noon

This is the definitive Western. There are other excellent Westerns of course ("The Unforgiven," "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," "The Searchers," "My Darling Clementine," and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" come immediately to mind), but none tops this one. Even though the difference in age between Gary Cooper and Grace Kelley makes the thought of their marriage seem a little kinky, it’s easy to buy into the story. Katy Jurado is sexy, Lloyd Bridges is callow, and the townspeople mean well, but when push comes to shove, they reveal their cowardice. (If you remember the scene in "Blazing Saddles" in which Van Johnson says, "Howard Johnson is right," you’ll almost certainly laugh at an inappropriate moment in "High Noon." You know, that’s the second time I’ve referred to "Blazing Saddles," which, due to its dreadful closing scenes, is not on this list.) "High Noon" is a textbook example of the storyteller’s art. The drama begins with the opening credits and doesn’t let up until everyone’s true character has been laid bare. This one is suspenseful and thrilling, and I find more to admire with every viewing.


It Happened One Night

This movie defined the romantic comedy genre, and 64 years after it was filmed, its charm has never been surpassed. The lesson in hitchhiking. The walls of Jericho. "The Man on the Flying Trapeze." In addition to being a fine entertainment, this film makes me think of a time machine. Daily life as depicted in this movie is close enough to our time to seem familiar, but far enough removed from us to seem exotic. "It Happened One Night" provides a delightful glimpse into everyday life in the early 1930’s, a time and place only the oldest of us can have known as adults. Soon, nobody alive will have known that world. And yet it will continue to sparkle with life through this film.


It’s A Wonderful Life

Suicidal George Bailey is given a chance to see what the world would be like if he had never been born, and through his story we learn that our actions affect other people in ways we may not comprehend. The scene I love most, that still gives me chills just thinking about it, is the scene in the cemetery when George discovers that his brother Harry, whom he rescued from drowning when they were kids, wasn’t the only hero who saved some soldiers on a troop transport. "Those men died! Harry wasn’t there to save them because you weren’t there to save Harry!" In the 1970’s, when blank VHS tapes cost $30 and I had to be selective in using them, this was the first film I recorded for my collection. Another perfect film. I wouldn’t change a frame. And I’ll always get teary when Clarence gets his wings.


King Kong

No, not that awful Dino De Laurentis thing with Jessica Lange. The original 1933 masterpiece with biplanes, and hand cranked documentary cameras, and wonderful lines like, "It was beauty killed the beast," and "Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World!" OK, the dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park" are more convincing. But somehow, Spielberg’s creatures look simply like live animals, while the dinosaurs in "King Kong" look like MONSTERS! That’s an important difference. Also, "Jurassic Park" doesn’t have a score by Max Steiner. "Kong" was the first blockbuster creature feature, and in my heart it’s never been surpassed. (Did you know that the guys in the biplane are the film’s producer-directors, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Shoedsack?)



I love a good mystery, and this is definitely one of the best. Gene Tierney is the murder victim so beautiful that detective Dana Andrews falls in love with her portrait. There’s a fine list of suspects, including Vincent Price and Clifton Webb. The plot packs surprises, the characters are fascinating, the milieu is 1940’s stylish, and the theme music will haunt you for days. That’ll do for me if I need reasons to watch this film again.


Little Shop of Horrors

No, not the black & white Roger Corman jewel featuring Jack Nicholson, though I suppose I’d watch that one again too. I’m talking about the 1986 color musical with Rick Moranis and Audrey II by way of Frank Oz. Like I said in my note on "Babe," I love a film with a Greek chorus. In this one, the chorus consists of three Motownish women singers, Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette. I’ll watch this film again, just to hear them sing one line: "TO – TAL – E – CLIPSE – OF – THE – SUN!" This is an all-singing, all-dancing science fiction black comedy that features human misery, a sadistic dentist, a masochistic patient, casual murder, girlfriend abuse, and a blood-sucking alien house plant monster. It’s hilarious from beginning to end. And the music is outstanding.


Lone Star

John Sayles’ direction of this film reminded me of Hitchcock in that I was always aware of the director’s style and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the acting and the story. Like "Godfather," this is a tale of families and how the sins of the fathers cast their shadows over the generations. To illustrate the connection, Sayles will slowly track his camera from a conversation in one part of a room to another part of the same room where characters who lived 25 years earlier are conversing. The years have passed, we realize, but all the characters, even the dead ones, are in this together. The technique may sound strange, but it works magically. And another thing: I’ve always thought Kris Kristofferson was a better singer than actor, and a better songwriter than singer. But in this film he turns in an outstanding performance as a very very bad Texas border town sheriff who disappeared years ago and whose bones have just turned up in the desert. At least we think those are his bones, and to solve the puzzle, the current sheriff, son of the man who became sheriff when Kris disappeared, must dig further than he wants into the town’s secrets. And once again, knowing how the film ends makes subsequent viewings just as fascinating as the first.



No, not the very wonderful TV series. The Robert Altman film with Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye, Elliott Gould as Trapper John, and Radar as Radar. This is a dark comedy, but it’s a delight from beginning to end. And even more effectively than the TV show, the movie illustrates the complete insanity of war. (But even the movie doesn’t depict Jesus on the cross hanging from a helicopter. For that you’ll need to read the book.) Like most Altman films, this one is episodic. It’s also gritty, grim, bloody, offensive, and charming. And Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) is not a character watered down and humanized for television. This is an example of a film so rich in detail (like Altman’s "Popeye," come to think of it) that it demands multiple viewings.


Modern Times

Long after most people thought the silent movie had been buried forever, Chaplin brought his "Little Fellow" out of mothballs for one more magnificent motion picture. The Tramp is trapped in a factory, performing mind-numbing repetitive tasks, and finally he goes hilariously berserk. I started laughing the instant I saw the lady in the dress with the buttons. Like "City Lights," this film is a collection of charming vignettes, this time revolving around The Tramp’s desire to settle down with gamin Paulette Goddard. From the Tramp’s encounter with an assembly-line "feeding machine" to his unsuccessful stints as night watchman and waiter, this movie is packed full of delights. Chaplin never speaks, but he does sing a little. This work of genius can make you smile though your heart is breaking.



I insist I’m not a Nicholas Cage fan, even though he appears in two of my very favorite films: "Raising Arizona," and "Moonstruck." His real talent must be knowing how to pick scripts. The subject of this film is love in all its wondrous permutations. Cher is smart, sassy, vulnerable and beautiful, and she deserved the Academy Award for her performance. But what I love most about this story is "Cosmo’s moon," the implication of the concept, and the magical way in which an actor pronounced those words. And maybe the dogs.


My Father’s Glory/My Mother’s Castle

These two films tell the story of a young boy’s "wonder years" growing up in a family with an adored father, a lovely but frail mother, and assorted eccentric relatives and friends. These are incredibly charming films that feature none of the violent action and highly charged emotions that we’ve come to expect in popular films today. Instead, they celebrate the simple joys of life in a warm and loving family. When minor but unexpected events occasionally disrupt the day-to-day flow of events, they can seem like terrible disasters. On the other hand, a simple visit to the country can seem like a tremendous adventure. It’s not necessary to have seen "My Father’s Glory" to enjoy "My Mother’s Castle." In fact, I happened to see them out of order and I loved them just the same. But if I had my preference, I’d watch them in order. The final scene of "My Mother’s Castle" is emotionally powerful and satisfying; for me it confirmed that every minute I’d invested in these films was worthwhile. I wanted to get up there on the screen and help. In French with English subtitles.


The Night of the Hunter

For what it’s worth, "The Night of the Hunter" is the only film directed by Charles Laughton. (That’s not important, but I find it interesting.) Sometimes it seems to be a magical fable, sometimes it seems to be a violent thriller, and sometimes it seems to be a farce. It’s the story of a boy and his little sister whose father stole some money and hid it in the girl’s doll, warning them never to tell. The father goes to prison where his cellmate, a preacher who’s also a serial killer, overhears him mumbling in his sleep about hiding the money. The preacher, played magnificently by Robert Mitchum, is released from prison and begins a quest to find the stolen loot. The children's flight from Mitchum is one of the most magical sequences ever put on film. I struggled with how I was going to describe this very strange motion picture, and then it came to me: This film is basically about love and hate and how they intertwine in our hearts. Exactly! That’s what the preacher was saying all along! If typing all these film comments has done me no other good, at least I’ve begun to understand "The Night of the Hunter."


Out of the Past

Another Robert Mitchum classic. This movie defines the term "film noir." Mitchum is a criminal trying to go straight, but trouble arrives from out of the past and his fate is sealed. He’s lured back to his old life for just one more job. This is a classy crime drama told in a style that is both fascinating and repellent.


Places in the Heart

This is a beautifully told story about life in a small Texas town during the Great Depression. Sally Field’s husband dies and it’s up to her to raise their children and harvest the cotton crop in time to save the farm. It’s a fine story, but at the end, the film springs a surprise. Who’d have thought a movie could have a coda? The last scene of the movie is so powerful that when I left the theater I literally felt like my breath had been taken away. I suspect the scene is unique in the movies, and it affects me every time I see it. I’ve shown this film on videotape to friends a few times, and I always whisper, "Please don’t say anything to me during this last scene." It never fails, though; my friends always begin jabbering away in astonishment right in the middle of the best scene in the movie. It’s not a big problem, though. They always shut up in wonder and understanding just before the credits start to roll.


Popeye (Robert Altman)

Why in the world hasn’t this film been released on LaserDisc in letterbox format? There’s as much or more taking place in the background nooks and crannies of Altman’s "Popeye" than there is up front. And all of it is a clever, inventive, respectful homage, to a comic strip/cartoon character that has never received his much deserved place of honor alongside Mickey, Bugs and Daffy. I want to see ALL of Robert Altman’s "Popeye," and pan-and-scan just doesn’t cut it. Oh, the music is wonderful, by the way. It’s what grabbed my attention one day when I still mistakenly believed the critics who panned this film. I was channel surfing and I heard Olive Oyl singing "He Needs Me" and I was hooked. This film is a jewel. ("The Rock: It's a hard place.")


Raising Arizona

The Coen brothers have made some remarkable movies (don’t miss "Blood Simple"), and this is my favorite of theirs. The story involves the theft of a quintuplet from a couple who obviously have so many babies that they’ll never miss just one. It’s a comedy. It’s a fable. It’s a bewilderment. Even the characters’ speech patterns are unknown in the natural world. Maybe someday Cliff’s Notes will publish an exegesis of "Raising Arizona," and we’ll come to a perfect understanding of the fine points of this film. (I understand the relationship between Hi and the biker, but Woody Woodpecker tattoos?) Until then, I’m just going to marvel and laugh.



So you’re convinced something happened between President Clinton and "that woman, Miss Lewinski," and you’re pretty sure you know the truth of the matter? And you’re absolutely certain you know the truth about what the LA cops did to Rodney King that night in Los Angeles? I mean, we all saw a videotape of the beating, right? Watch this movie. It could very well affect the way you view the concept of "truth." A masterpiece by Akira Kurosawa, with a lesson that resonates across all cultures and borders. In Japanese with English subtitles.


The Sandlot

I'm home on a Saturday night, by myself, ought to be out, don't feel like going anywhere, and there's nothing, nothing, nothing on TV. I'm clicking through the channels and I come across the Disney Channel of all things, and I see "The Sandlot" is on. Haven't seen it in years. I'd forgotten about it, in fact. And here we are near the end, and the kids are trying to rescue the Babe Ruth baseball from James Earl Jones' dog, and I'm hooked. Incredible how the film brings back memories of childhood. The clothes, the PF Flyers, the sweat on the kids' faces; but even better, the intensity of play. Retrieving that ball is the most important thing in the world -- as momentous as going into battle.  Of course the big chase is a fantasy/nostalgia sequence -- doesn't matter. It's just fun. And then James Earl Jones to the rescue -- a most unlikely denouement, really more fantasy, and so nice.   But the kids one by one move away and grow up and disappear from the sandlot forever. And then Benny the Jet steals home, and I'm actually cheering. (So I'm a sucker for sentiment...I get teary at Zu-Zu's petals too. Sue me.)


Singin’ In The Rain

Some say this is the perfect Hollywood musical. I disagree, and given the chance, I would definitely change more than a few frames. But let’s start with what I love about the movie. The plot involves the advent of talking pictures and the changes their coming forced upon the Hollywood system. Jean Hagen has the role of her life as a clueless silent screen star whose natural speaking voice is something of a handicap now that talkies have arrived. Most of the set piece performances are absolutely delightful, e.g. Gene Kelly, of course, literally singing in the rain; Donald O’Connor making them laugh; and both of them plus Debbie Reynolds singing "Good Mornin’." I’ll watch this film over and over just to enjoy all that. Only one thing keeps this film from achieving perfection: an overlong, unnecessary, out-of-place modern dance number called "Broadway Melody." It’s as though that scene dropped in from another movie – and a bad one at that. But the rest of the film is an exceptionally entertaining MGM musical comedy.


Some Like it Hot

Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are musicians who witness a mob hit and have to go on the lam. (It’s a 1920’s movie so I can say that.) They disguise themselves as women, join an all girls band which features Marilyn Monroe, and catch a train to a tropical resort where things get very complicated. Supposedly Monroe was a real pain to work with on this film, but her performance is completely charming. Joe E. Brown as the older gentleman who falls in love with Jack Lemmon (he’s a woman, remember) is absolutely hilarious. This is a classic farce, a love story, and a suspense thriller all in one film.


Star Wars (Trilogy)

In early summer 1977 I found myself taking in the sights on Times Square one Saturday afternoon, and I came across a long line of people waiting to get into Loews Theater (which turned out to have a screen, oh, about a half mile wide) to see "Star Wars." For several months I’d been intrigued by a silver-gray movie poster at the Memphian Theater back home that said simply, "Coming to Your Galaxy This Summer: Star Wars." My feet were tired from walking all over New York, so I decided, "What the heck," and got in line. When I bought my ticket I was given a pin-on button, about three inches in diameter, upon which was printed against a blue field of stars, "May the Force Be With You." "Wonder what that means?" I thought, and I pinned it on my shirt. I found a seat and for the next two hours, as I sat suspended in space from the front row of the balcony, "Star Wars" transported me, as no movie had before, to adventures in a time and place I could never have imagined. "Star Wars" took my breath away. Almost literally. When the Millennium Falcon kicked into overdrive and the stars stretched, I nearly fell out of the balcony. The next day I traveled home and told all my friends that they would soon see a new science fiction movie that was about to sweep the country and they would all love it. They thought I was nuts, but I was mostly right of course. (Can you believe some people don’t love "Star Wars?") Now I have the new version of all three "Star Wars" films on LaserDisc, and I expect to continue enjoying them for years to come. And yes, I like the new versions better. The Jabba the Hutt scene was an especially welcome addition to the first film.


Sunset Boulevard

A dead man narrates this film about the descent into madness of aging silent screen star Norma Desmond, played by aging silent screen star Gloria Swanson. Aging Silent Screen star/director Erich von Stroheim plays Norma Desmond’s butler, and other ASS stars, directors, and studio heads appear in cameos. The film is dark and depressing and with all those famous old faces around, absolutely fascinating. "I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."


The Terminator I & II

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays essentially the same character in both films, but in Part I he’s a (really) bad guy, and in Part II he’s the hero. It’s a time travel story in which a humanoid robot from the future arrives in the present to murder a woman so she’ll never give birth to a child who is destined to grow up to lead what to all appearances is an incredibly unsuccessful fight against humanoid robots in the future. And that’s just the first film. In the second film the child is already born and another humanoid robot from the future, a spooky shape-shifter this time, arrives in the present to murder the kid, but a third humanoid robot (Arnold II), programmed this time to do good deeds, follows the bad robot to the present and tries to protect the kid and rescue the kid’s mother who is in an insane asylum because she keeps insisting that robots from the future are trying to kill her. Did you get all that? I’m a sucker for a good time-travel story, and the next time this one’s on TV, I’ll be back. This is first-class science fiction – it’s entertaining and it makes me think. (I also really liked Arnold in "Total Recall," but I can never really work up an interest in watching it again because I can’t make up my mind whether the story is taking place in the real world or in a brain aneurysm.)


The Third Man

The setting is Vienna in the months following the end of WWII. Pulp fiction writer and certifiable naïf Holly Martins arrives to visit his old buddy Harry Lime, who, he discovers, is very recently dead. Holly hasn’t the funds to afford a ticket out of town, so he hangs around and gets to know Harry’s old friends and enemies, and even Harry’s sweetheart. He also learns that contrary to what he had been told, there were not just two witnesses to Harry’s death in a traffic accident; a third man was present. Then, well, if you don’t know what happens then, I recommend you rent this movie immediately. "The Third Man" paints a definitive picture of the ravages of war and the inevitable world-weary, cynical victims that are created. All this and a Ferris wheel, an epigram about a cuckoo clock, and zither music you’ll never forget!


Throne of Blood

A Japanese warrior and his companion, while traveling through a dark forest, meet a weird sister who predicts (good news) that someday the warrior will be warlord of all the land, but (bad news) his companion’s son will later inherit the throne. Immediately the warrior and his wife conspire to kill the current warlord so the warrior can take the throne a little sooner. The wife subsequently goes mad as she tries to wash the blood off her hands, and the warrior is turned into a human pincushion as Birnam Wood comes to High Dunsinane, or something like that. Akira Kurosawa sets "Macbeth" in medieval Japan, and it works quite nicely. Black & white in Japanese with English subtitles.


The Vanishing

No, not that mistake of a movie with Jeff Bridges. The original. In Dutch with English subtitles. A fellow and his girlfriend are on an outing when she vanishes without a trace. He becomes obsessed with discovering what happened to her. Whether he can be completely successful in his quest is the whole point of the movie. Why the original director would remake this little masterpiece in English with a Hollywood ending is completely beyond me. See the original. You won’t soon forget it.


The Wizard of Oz

People seldom mention this film when talking about the great Hollywood musicals, but this is the best movie musical of all, I think – certainly better than "Singin’ in the Rain." It’s another perfect film. I wouldn’t change a frame. I remember seeing this as a small child in a neighborhood theater and coming home to tell my parents about the movie that "starts in black and white and then turns to color when she flies over the rainbow in her house and lands on a witch!" I remember wondering how they got the pretty witch in that big flying glass ball and I remember being terrified of the big green head. I also remember going straight to the library and over the next few months reading all the Baum books, which turned out to be even better than the movie. What a mistake it would be if anyone ever tried to remake this film. MGM got it right in 1939.


Young and Innocent (Or Any Hitchcock Film)

Hitchcock is in a class by himself. I’ll give any of his films multiple viewings. Why choose "Young and Innocent" to be my exemplary Hitchcock film? Two reasons: 1) It starts with "Y" so it lets me save the best for last in my alphabetical list; and 2) It really is one of my favorite Hitchcock films. The story and structure resemble "The 39 Steps," with a young woman helping a young man on the run thwart the police and prove his innocence. This film is a standout, though, not because of the story or acting (both charming), but because of a virtuoso bit of directing by the Master, in which the location of the killer is revealed. As I watched the scene unfold for the first time, I remember thinking, "This is what makes Hitchcock Hitchcock." Though I’m being untrue to the theme of this list, I wish I had never seen any Hitchcock films so I could watch them all again for the first time. It is a brilliant body of work. As it is, I have seen nearly all of them numerous times (I’m putting off viewing a few so I’ll have something to look forward to), and I’ll continue to watch them again and again. For anyone who may not be familiar with the works of Alfred Hitchcock, here are some top choices for viewing soon: "Rear Window," "Strangers on a Train," "The 39 Steps," "The Lady Vanishes," "Notorious," "North by Northwest," "Shadow of a Doubt," "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956), and "Psycho." If you’ve seen all these, there are some lesser-known films that are equally outstanding: "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934), "Foreign Correspondent," "Rope," "The Trouble With Harry," "Frenzy," and "Saboteur." If you’ve seen all these, find a Hitchcock filmography on the web and locate a film you haven’t seen. I doubt that you’ll be disappointed.

Hit Counter