Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sh!#ting on the Classics: Better Yet!

Readers Sol and Heath (both of whom we love) posted comments in the last two weeks that reminded me of two important things. First, not everyone who reads this column has been teaching Film Study for twenty-eight goddamned years. Second, what I sometimes assume is common knowledge might, to others, be hopeless Esoterica (which is both the title of Lars Von Trier’s proposed sequel to Melancholia and the name of Patrick’s wife, I think.)

With that in mind, here is an entire column devoted to “Better Yet” – your educational guide to some worthwhile films from the past. For all of the genres listed, these are good places to start. The choices, take note, are hopelessly personal and not at all academic. “Because all of you of Earth… are idiots!

CAVEAT:  I have noticed lately that too many “Best Of” lists posted to the Internets seem to have a worm’s eye view of history (or perhaps the people compiling them honestly think that film as an entertainment medium was invented around 1980). The lists below END in the eighties. So there. After 1985, I assume you guys can find your own way.

Here are 25 terrific films from five seminal genres-- 35 for Horror (because Horror). YOU’RE WELCOME.

Films marked with an asterisk (*) are currently available on Netflix Instant.

 Comedy:  The Gold Rush* (1925), The General (1927), Duck Soup* (1933), A Night at the Opera (1935), My Man Godfrey* (1936), Way Out West (1937), The Bank Dick (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), Never Give a Sucker An Even Break (1941), Sullivan’s Travels (1941), Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein* (1948), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), Dr. Strangelove (1964), The Graduate* (1967), The Odd Couple* (1968), The Producers* (1968), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls* (1970), M*A*S*H (1970), Harold and Maude* (1971), American Graffiti (1973), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Network (1976), Annie Hall (1977), Slap Shot (1977), and Diner (1982).

Film Noir: M (1931), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Double Indemnity* (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Crossfire (1947), Out of the Past (1947), Nightmare Alley (1947), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Force of Evil (1948), The Third Man* (1949), They Live By Night (1949), Gun Crazy (1950), Strangers on a Train* (1951), Ace in the Hole (1951), Kansas City Confidential* (1952), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), The Killing (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1958), Touch of Evil (1958), Point Blank (1967), The Getaway (1972), Chinatown (1973), and Blood Simple (1984).

Western: The Great Train Robbery (1903), Stagecoach (1939), Destry Rides Again (1939), My Darling Clementine (1946), Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Fort Apache (1948), Red River (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Broken Arrow (1950), The Furies (1950), High Noon* (1952), Shane (1952), Johnny Guitar (1954), The Searchers (1956), Rio Bravo (1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Ride the High Country (1962), The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), Once Upon a Time in the West (1969), The Wild Bunch (1969), Little Big Man (1970), The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), The Shootist (1976), and The Long Riders (1980).

Sci-Fi (a term hated by author Harlan Ellison; he pronounced it “skiffy”): A Trip to the Moon (1902), Metropolis* (1927), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), When Worlds Collide (1951), Invaders from Mars* (1953), It Came From Outer Space (1953), War of the Worlds (1953), Forbidden Planet (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Fiend Without a Face (1958), The Fly (1958), The Time Machine (1960), The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), Seconds (1966), Planet of the Apes (1968), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), A Clockwork Orange* (1971), Slaughterhouse Five* (1972), Sleeper (1973), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Time After Time (1979), Altered States (1980), Time Bandits* (1981), Blade Runner* (1982), and Brazil (1985).

Musical: 42nd Street (1933), Broadway Melody of 1933, Footlight Parade (1933), Top Hat (1935), Swing Time (1936), Babes in Arms (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), On the Town (1949), The Bandwagon* (1953), A Star is Born (1954), Guys and Dolls (1955), Singing in the Rain* (1952), Oklahoma! (1955), A Hard Day’s Night* (1964), Mary Poppins (1964), Yellow Submarine (1968), Woodstock (1970), Phantom of the Paradise (1972), 1776 (1972), Hair* (1979), All That Jazz (1979), Pink Floyd The Wall (1982), Stop Making Sense* (1984), and True Stories (1986).

Horror: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari* (1920), Nosferatu* (1922), The Phantom of the Opera* (1925), The Cat and the Canary (1927), Dracula* (1931), Frankenstein (1931), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Old Dark House (1932), Freaks (1932), The Invisible Man* (1935), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man* (1941), Cat People (1942), Creature from the Black Lagoon* (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Curse of the Demon (1957), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Fly* (1958), Psycho (1960), Carnival of Souls* (1962), The Haunting (1963), The Birds (1963), Repulsion (1965), Night of the Living Dead* (1968) The Exorcist (1973), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre* (1974), Jaws (1975), Carrie (1976), Halloween (1978), Dawn of the Dead (1979), Alien (1979), The Shining (1980), and The Thing (1982).

That should be enough to keep the ardent film fan busy.  Send us an e-mail when you have watched all 160, and we will send you a shiny new dime.


  1. Man, I suck. Only seen 60 of these, but saw a lot of names of movies I own but haven't watched (still shrinkwrapped on DVD/BD) or have access to (Amazon Prime, library, etc.). Musicals is my weakest area (seen only four of the listed one's) but that's OK because I personally can't stand musicals and have a hard time enjoying them. The only musicals I've genuinely liked are "Easter Parade" (why isn't that one included in your list professor JB?), "The Sound of Music" and "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut."

    Nice shout-out to Frankenheimer's "Seconds" as a sci-fi must-see. If Rock Hudson had done one or two more performances as good as this one he'd be better remembered as a good actor instead of a Hollywood pretty boy. "The Long Riders" is also an inspired choice for a western since it's Walter Hill (which automatically means awesome in this time of his career) and the 'brother actors playing brother outlaws' gimmick actually works to the movie's advantage, especially with the Carradine brothers.

    Also, shouldn't there have been an 'action' category? If "The Fly" can appear on both horror and sci-fi lists then an 'action' category would have been a fine place for flicks like "The Getaway" and "Stagecoach" (action movies in my book) to co-mingle with the likes of "The French Connection," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and the better Bond movies. Just a thought. Later JB. :-)

  2. Have no fear, J.M. Other genres will follow in sporadic, subsequent columns. "Action," "Romantic Comedy," "Thriller," and "Drama," for instance, are all on their way...

  3. Awesome. I've seen a lot of these, but equally there are a lot that I have not. I am literally copying this entire page to a word document for posterity and reference. Thanks, JB.

    By the way, after a long day at work in which I was thoroughly exhausted, the Esoterica joke got quite a laugh out of me. Well done. Is that Avidity's sister?

    And lastly, you will probably be pleased to know that, because of your influence, I'm slowly working my way through Charlie Chaplin's work and have become a huge fan of the man. He's just genius. This podcast, your column, and the conversations between yourself and Patrick have done more to make me grow as a film (movie) fan than anything in recent memory.

  4. Ah, I love you guys too - at first it was strictly platonic but now I kinda want to cuddle...

    This is great JB - THANK YOU for taking the time to do this - I'll look forward to subsequent columns covering other genres but this should keep me occupied for quite a while - I have got a LOT of movie watching to do (though unfortunately Netflix up here in Canuckistan does not have nearly the selection that you Yanks have access to so look out wallet!). Please don't hit me when I say this, but I've only seen TWELVE of these movies, with nine of them being from the horror and science-fiction genres alone. Very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into all the others.

    I feel very fortunate to have finally opened up to "old" movies. You know how when you were a kid, you might not have liked a certain food, say mushrooms, not because you WANTED to not like them, you just didn't like em. Then you get a bit older, your taste develops and damn, you grow to love mushrooms and are glad to be rid of that part of you that didn't like them before. It's interesting to me that, in my case at least, taste in art can develop similarly. For example, I watched The Godfather a few years back and was really forcing it down - I was mostly bored and struggling to pay attention while (unsuccessfully) trying to convince myself that it was a good movie (has to be right?! It's the freakin Godfather!). I watched it again for the first time this weekend and absolutely loved it - had to watch Part II immediately and loved it too. Just like with Citizen Kane, it wasn't a case of, "Okay, I'm going to be one of those guys that loves movies so dammit I'm gonna love these movies that I'm supposed to love!" Nothing was forced - I just naturally had that great feeling of being completely immersed in a film that I have experienced with more modern movies, but with ever-decreasing regularity. I'm not assuming that ALL of your suggestions will do that for me but I'm confident there will be far more hits than misses and I greatly appreciate having this "deeper" guide to film history that something like the AFI Top 100 doesn't provide - my thanks again, for this and all the great stuff you, Patrick and your other cohorts do that benefit (budding) film enthusiasts like myself. Keep up the great work!

  5. If you loved Godfather I and II, then just wait till you watch III! Easily the best :)

    1. Yeah, just finished that last night and I couldn't disagree more - I assume you're joking!?

      What the fuck were we as the audience supposed to be thinking when it came to the uncomfortable relationship of the two star-crossed hillbilly first cousins, Mary Corleone and Vincent Mancini? Were we supposed to be rooting for that relationship? Were we supposed to feel a sting when Michael forbade the relationship? Were we suppose to hope that Vincent would defy him and schtupp his cousin anyway? *SPOILER* When Mary gets shot in the chest at the end am I supposed to feel anything besides a vague sense of disappointment that she wasn't shot right in her stupid face? And was it really necessary to end the movie with a 15 second scene in the future of Michael keeling over and dying? I kinda assumed he was going to die at some point, you know?

      I don't know, it wasn't an awful movie and was even a pretty good movie in a lot of respects, but I just don't think it was a NECESSARY movie and when inevitably compared to its vastly superior predecessors it doesn't hold up very well.

      Fortunately I was able to wash that slightly bitter taste out of my mouth with "Vertigo" which I thought was fantastic. Is it just me or does Mr. Rogers + Handsome = Jimmy Stewart? Anyway, that served as my real introduction to both Hitchcock and Stewart (having only caught bits and pieces of both in the past) and I'm definitely a fan!

  6. A great selection of films there and a few that hold great memories of watching them at my grandparents’ house growing up.

    Regarding the Western list, I sent an e-mail a while back saying I’d love to hear some more shows on the genre. Particularly The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, from that collection, although I do enjoy the older more traditional Westerns too.

  7. Just watched Stagecoach and enjoyed the performance of 32 year old John Wayne.

  8. Oy. Only 28 seen so far. Six more than my age, though- perhaps I'll finish the list by the time I'm 140.

  9. At least 121 and a handful of titles I don´t really recall if I ever saw them.