There are some films you can never get enough of, right? Some are pure comfort food, some are annual seasonal delights, some are visually stunning, some bring back happy memories and others you, well, just find some indescribable need to just watch repeatedly. The pleasure of watching a favorite film over and over again fills your pleasure dome like an excellent piece of Belgium chocolate. If you are a serious student of film, repeatedly watching a film will reveal what makes it so powerful by studying the editing, the lighting, how the music is used and much more. On a lighter note, it’s simply the joy of being with an old familiar friend. There is the anticipation of knowing what’s coming next. It could be Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot when he sees Marilyn Monroe for the first time at the train station saying, “Will you look at that! Look how she moves! It’s like Jell-O on springs. Must have some sort of built-in motor or something. I tell you, it’s a whole different sex!” Or it could be Edward G. Robinson as Rico, in Little Caesar, shot down and uttering his last words, “Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?” However you want to look at it, people do love watching favorite films over and over and over.
I have been working on my own list for a while, longer than I want to admit. I attempted to put the list in some kind of order finally succumbing to the simplest…alphabetical. As the title states, I have come up with 101 favorite films. The key word is “favorite.” The list was actually was a lot longer, but I limited it to 101. It was tough and this resulted in many films I love having not made the final cut. In the end, these films are my go to movies that I never get tired of watching.
A final note: This occasional series will be in ten parts, ten films per post except for the final post which will contain eleven entries. Like all lists, at least my own lists, this one is always subject to change. You will also note, the list consist of all English speaking films, mostly American. Originally, I included foreign language films, however, I decided that would be a list for another occasion. And now…
As you may guess, there will be a few Alfred Hitchcock films on the list, seven to be exact. Only one other film director has as many films (???). The 39 Steps is from Hitchcock’s early British period and though it’s over eighty years since it was made, the film feels like it could have been made today. It has all the elements of what we expect from a Hitchcock thriller; the average man caught up in an extraordinary situation, mistaken identity, dark humor, sex, and the cool “icy” blonde and sex. Madeleine Carroll became one of a list of classic “Hitchcock blondes.” The 39 Steps is arguably, Hitchcock’s greatest film from his British period.
A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
No one was expecting much when The Beatles first film was announced. It was planned as a quickie movie to shoot cheap, release as soon as possible, make a ton of money for United Artists, who was releasing the film, and more importantly, the soundtrack with new songs by Lennon and McCartney. Get it all done and out to the public before the mop tops faded away and were forgotten. Before A Hard Day’s Night, rock and roll movies were all cheap affairs. There were basically three types. The teen story, generally with a D.J. like Alan Freed who wants to put on a show for the kids. There would be plenty of rock and roll singers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Gene Vincent along with doo-wop groups like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and The Flamingos. In the 1960’s, there was the pabulum over loaded Beach movies mostly featuring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Finally, there was Elvis. Elvis who managed to make some of the worst movies along with music that deteriorated in quality as the years went on (It’s a Dog’s Life anyone?). Early in his career, there was an attempt to make a good movie or two. I personally like King Creole. And though the film is weak, in Jailhouse Rock, Elvis had a real bad ass rock and roll attitude. One thing these movies all had in common is they were made on the cheap, they made money and were not art. That all changed when Richard Lester and John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived. A Hard Day’s Night was intelligent. It was revolutionary in its film making technique. Today’s videos all owe a debt to A Hard Day’s Night. The script was cheeky and witty, as were The Beatles. You do not have to be a Beatles fan to like A Hard Day’s Night.
ABBOTT AND COSTSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN
I have loved Abbott and Costello since I was a kid. Their TV show was something I watched repeatedly. A&C Meet Frankenstein is one of their best. Working for Universal, the team had access to the original Frankenstein sets as well as the actual Universal monsters and actors. This fact has been looked at from two very different points of view. Some critics felt Universal reduced their classic monsters to second class citizens playing second fiddle to the comedy duo while others felt this is one of the best, if not the best, comedy/horror films ever made.
ACE IN THE HOLE
Manipulation, exploitation, opportunism, and hard-boiled vile, shaken, mixed and slammed into your guts by Billy Wilder. Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival) is a lurid, take no prisoners portrait of the news media delivering a knock down nasty assault on journalism and the morbid character of the blood leaching public. No one is spared. A film made more than fifty years ago, yet more relevant today than ever. Wilder was a cynic, and in this scorching film noir, his cup runneth over.
Written by the husband and wife team of Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, Adam’s Rib is once of the most charming and funny battle of the sexes comedies to ever grace the screen. For me, this is the best film Tracy and Hepburn ever made together. The characters feel like they truly are a married couple. Though in some cases their thinking and ideas are at opposite ends of the pole. Politically, the film was way ahead of its time. Hepburn is a feminist while Tracy play your typical chauvinist husband who thinks the wife should be in the kitchen shaking those pots and pans. Oh sure, he’s proud of her and all, but hey, enough is enough. Sometimes, after all, a woman has to be put it her place. The film also exposes the court system as lacking an equal sense of justice between the sexes. The supporting cast of Judy Holiday, David Wayne and Hope Emerson all add to the pleasure.
I first saw Al Capone during the summer of 1959 at the Staten Island Paramount Theater on Bay Street. I was pretty young at the time, probably around ten or eleven years old, but I was already in love with gangster movies. Even at that young age Rod Steiger’s performance made a strong impression on me, enough to make me believe he was the real Al Capone. Hell, he even looked like the real deal; stocky, round face and that nasty scar. To this day, I still maintain Rod Steiger’s portrayal of Al Capone is the best, despite or in spite of so many other good performances, particularly from Robert DeNiro and Neville Brand, and a few badly overacted ones (Ben Gazarra and Jason Robards) that have come along since.
THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY
Six years before Catch-22 and M.A.S.H. were released in theaters, The Americanization of Emily appeared almost out of nowhere. Vietnam was still low on the boiling plate of the American conscience, however, this film does hold the distinction of being the first anti-war film of that turbulent era. With a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, who would later go on to expose the lunacy of other institutions in The Hospital and Network, Chayefsky uses William Bradford Huie’s novel as a launching pad to sound off on his anti-war, anti-establishment tirades. The film was ahead of its time and still has not received the recognition it deserves.
ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES
Sunday afternoons channel five in New York City was a mecca for Warner Brothers films when I was a kid. One of the regulars was this excellent Michael Curtiz gangster film. Jimmy Cagney, as Rocky Sullivan, just released from prison and back in the neighborhood. The local kids look up to him like he was a rock star. His long time friend, Pat O’Brien, now a priest, is still looking for some good in Rocky. His former partners in crime want to kill him, this includes a weasel like Humphrey Bogart. The opening crane shot, recreated on the lot, of the Lower East Side neighborhood where the action takes place is both accurate and massive.
The biggest problem with National Lampoon’s Animal House is not with the film itself, but with the subsequent legacy of inferior films that followed in its footsteps. After Animal House, most humor in the movies became aimed at the lowest common denominator, and to this day we are still feeling its effects. Animal House is different from all that followed due to a perfect blend of low and sophisticated humor. That and a superb comic performance, that ranks up there with the best, from the late John Belushi as John “Bluto” Blutarsky. It may seem tame by todays standards but as John Lennon once said, “you shoulda been there.”
With Annie Hall, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton became the Tracy and Hepburn of the neurotic modern age. It’s the film that all romantic comedies of the modern era are compared against, and generally they all fall short. Additionally, with this film Allen established himself as a filmmaker of great talent …an artist. My first time viewing Annie Hall was upon its initial New York premiere at the Baronet theater on the Upper East Side. Before it disappeared from the screen I caught it two more times.