Okay, the list that follows is of my “favorite” films ever, not necessarily of the “greatest” ever made. But, you know, these lists are subjective anyway, and so …
Save your scorn until the end. Here goes, in the usual descending numerical order (see my other lists for more of the same)…
10. Planet of the Apes
Based on Pierre Boulle’s French novel, La Planete des Singes (Planet of the Apes in the US and Monkey Planet in England), this film, which I saw for the first time on an old black and white television in a mid-afternoon time slot, was my everything in those pre-Star Wars days. I watched the sequels over subsequent weeks, and loved them all. And today, my second favorite film of this past year? 2017? War for the Planet of the Apes. The more things change…
9. Bride of Frankenstein
Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester starred in my favorite of all the early Universal monster movies. A sequel to James Whale’s Frankenstein, Bride was released four years later in 1935. The sets were beyond reproach, and the creature was stunningly sympathetic. Its equally iconic score by Franz Waxman, incidentally, confused me as a kid. I was (still am) a huge fan of the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials, which utilized the same music! But it worked there, too. Bride of Frankenstein is a monster classic.
8. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Kubrick, outer space, minimal dialog, a classical music soundtrack, and a short story by Arthur C. Clarke (“The Sentinel”) combined for a cinematic experience unlike any other. This entry will be similarly minimalist.
7. The Exorcist
I love horror films. I’ve seen The Exorcist well over a hundred times. My parents wouldn’t allow me to see it when it opened (I was 12, and Linda Blair masturbating with a crucifix wasn’t their idea of family entertainment), and so, when we finally subscribed to HBO in the 80s, I saw for myself what the fuss was all about. This is one film that never loses its power, not just to shock, but to tell a story. William Peter Blatty’s screenplay, based on his book, was masterful. Bill Friedkin was never more effective than he was here (and yes, I’m a fan of The French Connection). Blair and Ellen Burstyn deserved Oscars for their performances (both were nominated only), and I daresay The Exorcist has certainly outlived the film that beat it for Best Picture that year — The Sting.
6. Duck Soup
Hail Freedonia! The Marx Brothers (Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo) at their most anarchic. A wartime satire to end all wartime satires, the quartet has never been funnier. Duck Soup also remains the most relevant of their filmography.
5. City Lights
Chaplin’s finest. The Tramp falls for a blind woman, who is told she could regain her sight following an operation. All is well…until the rumpled Chaplin realizes his beloved will now be able to see him for the vagabond he is. The final shot will make you cry. Promise.
4. Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise)
Shot during the German occupation of France during World War II (ponder that), this romantic drama of a beautiful courtesan and the men who love her is a cinematic masterpiece. Director Marcel Carne was at his peak here.
Based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison, Casablanca is old Hollywood at its most sublime. And then, of course, were Bogart, Bergman, Henreid, Lorre, Rains, Wilson, Greenstreet …You cannot help but “remember this.”
2. A Clockwork Orange
I consider A Clockwork Orange to be the “most perfect” film ever made. “Perfect” in the sense of technical efficiency, of adaptation and faithfulness to its source material (Anthony Burgess’ original novel), of writing, of acting…of Malcolm. Malcolm McDowell was no actor to me. He and Alex DeLarge were one and the same. “Singin’ in the Rain,” on the other hand, was never quite the same…
1. The Complete, Canonical Star Wars Saga
It’s my list, and cheating is my prerogative. I was a 13-year-old in 1977 when I saw Star Wars for the very first time on a small screen in Monticello, New York. There was not yet A New Hope, as this was the film’s first release. My parents left the theater with my brothers as the end credits rolled; I could not move my legs. Yeah, a movie shook me to the core. I couldn’t get enough, and once saw it six times in a single day (no one said I was normal). Today, as a 53-year-old, The Last Jedi is my favorite film of this year. The Force is very much alive to this writer.
So there you go. As ever, argue away…
Honorable Mentions: The Godfather, Part Two, The Last Temptation of Christ, Casino, Carrie, Dawn of the Dead (original), Halloween (original), East of Eden (James Dean), Yankee Doodle Dandy, Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, Taxi Driver, Metropolis, Last of the Mohicans (Daniel Day Lewis), Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, and Rocky.