My Favorite Movies

It seems that every time I write anything about movies, I can count on hearing from readers who boast about not having seen one since “Birth of a Nation.” I can certainly empathize with those who don’t want to waste their time and money watching movies based on comic books and have no desire to help enrich or promote the careers of people like Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, George Clooney, Sean Penn, Morgan Freeman, Jamie Foxx, Tim Robbins, Steven Spielberg and Jane Fonda.

But I hate to think that people are depriving themselves of either art or entertainment because of their politics. Heaven knows nobody has more contempt for the Hollywood hypocrites who talk up socialism while cashing humongous checks and parrot Obama’s demands that the rich pay higher taxes while employing high-priced CPAs and every tax dodge under the sun to ensure they pay the bare minimum.

That being said, even since the days of silent films there have been any number of terrific movies I think everyone should see.

My sole criteria in selecting the movies on my list is that I have seen them all several times over a period of years and have continued to enjoy them.

I list them not in order of preference, but simply by decade:

The 30s (and a few from the late 20s):
Dinner at Eight, City Lights, Gay Divorcee, It Happened One Night, Alice Adams, The Gold Rush, Top Hat, 39 Steps, My Man Godfrey, Swing Time, Make Way for Tomorrow, Carefree, Destry Rides Again, The Wizard of Oz, Bachelor Mother, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. (Note: Of these 17 movies, four starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and one starred Ginger Rogers and David Niven.)

The 40s:
My Favorite Wife, The Shop Around the Corner, The Thief of Bagdad, The Devil and Miss Jones, Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, Ball of Fire, The Lady Eve, This Gun for Hire, Palm Beach Story, Woman of the Year, The Major and the Minor, The Glass Key, Casablanca, Shadow of a Doubt, The More the Merrier, Meet Me in St. Louis, Double Indemnity, Hail the Conquering Hero, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Laura, Mildred Pierce, The Best Years of Our Lives, It’s a Wonderful Life, Stairway to Heaven, Great Expectations, The Farmer’s Daughter, Force of Evil, I Remember Mama, Red River, A Foreign Affair, Apartment for Peggy. (Note: Of the 32 movies, four were written and directed by Preston Sturges.)

The 50s:
All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard, The African Queen, People Will Talk, The Quiet Man, High Noon, Shane, On the Waterfront, 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, Marty, Ladykillers, Sweet Smell of Success, Desk Set, North x Northwest, Some Like It Hot. (Note: Of the 48 movies of the 40s and 50s, six were directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, and a seventh was co-written by him.)

The 60s:
School for Scoundrels, The Apartment, Hustler, Charade, My Fair Lady, The Pumpkin Eater, The World of Henry Orient, 36 Hours, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Alfie, Divorce American Style, Two for the Road, Support Your Local Sheriff. (Note: Although I never regarded myself as a fan of westerns, I can’t help noticing that of the 76 movies listed so far, five are westerns.)

The 70s:
A New Leaf, The Godfather, The Heartbreak Kid, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, The Goodbye Girl, House Calls, Time After Time, Breaking Away, La Cage aux Folles, The In-Laws. (Note: Clearly not my favorite decade. Of the 10 movies, two starred Walter Matthau and two starred Richard Dreyfuss.)

The 80s:
Diner, A Christmas Story, The Natural, Broadway Danny Rose, All of Me, Witness, Murphy’s Romance, Lost in America, Hannah and Her Sisters, Hoosiers, Roxanne, The Princess Bride, Moonstruck, The Untouchables, Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run, Naked Gun, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Die Hard, Crossing Delancey, Field of Dreams, The Tall Guy. (For me, it was a decade of firsts, including the first and last Woody Allen movies I ever liked and the first sports movie to make the list; in fact, there were three of them.)

The 90s:
Green Card, Quigley Down Under, Cinema Paradiso, Beauty and the Beast, Silence of the Lambs, Dead Again, Defending Your Life, My Cousin Vinny, Enchanted April, Housesitter, Peter’s Friends, Groundhog Day, Falling Down, The Remains of the Day, The Fugitive, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Nobody’s Fool, Sense and Sensibility, A Family Thing, Fargo, Swingers, Sliding Doors, An Ideal Husband, Galaxy Quest, Election, Mumford. (Note: As I look at my list, I realize that for me, this was the decade of the English, thanks mainly to its introducing me to Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie, John Hannah, Michael Kitchen and Rowan Atkinson.)

The 21st century:
The Dish, About a Boy, Chicago, The Upside of Anger, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Matador, The Lives of Others, Thank You for Smoking, Taken, The Blind Side, Bridesmaids, The King’s Speech, The Artist. (Note: Pretty skimpy pickings for 13 years.)

Unless I’ve miscounted, there are 149 movies on my list. Not a lot when you realize they represent about 85 years of moviemaking. Some people will notice that my plebian taste generally runs to comedies. Others will notice that although most people think 1939 was the greatest year for movies, my personal favorite was 1946, because that was the year of “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Stairway to Heaven,” which sometimes goes by the title of “A Matter of Life and Death.”

But I suspect that the thing that will leave the greatest number of movie aficionados flummoxed will be the absence of “Gone with the Wind,” “The Searchers,” “Ben-Hur,” “The Sound of Music,” “Grand Illusion,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Mrs. Miniver,” “Rebecca,” “Hamlet,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “A Man for All Seasons,” “Last Year at Marienbad,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Deliverance,” “The Deer Hunter,” “Coming Home,” “Good Fellas,” “Out of Africa,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Platoon,” “Titanic,” “La Dolce Vita,” “Amadeus” and “Raging Bull.”

They were all distinguished, award-winning productions, and the one thing they all had in common was that I could barely sit through them even once. The mere thought of having to sit through any of these snooze fests a second time makes my teeth ache.

©2013 Burt Prelutsky. Comments? Write

Author Bio:

Burt Prelutsky, a very nice person once you get to know him, has been a humor columnist for the L.A. Times and a movie critic for Los Angeles magazine. As a freelancer, he has written for the New York Times, Washington Times, TV Guide, Modern Maturity, Emmy, Holiday, American Film, and Sports Illustrated. For television, he has written for Dragnet, McMillan & Wife, MASH, Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, Bob Newhart, Family Ties, Dr. Quinn and Diagnosis Murder. In addition, he has written a batch of terrific TV movies. View Burt’s IMDB profile. Talk about being well-rounded, he plays tennis and poker... and rarely cheats at either. He lives in the San Fernando Valley, where he takes his marching orders from a wife named Yvonne and a dog named Angel.
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  • Wheels55

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Also, Saving Private Ryan.

    Butch and Sundance is my all time favorite. Saving Ryan was the first movie I recall seeing that vividly show me the horrors of war. Always being a fan of war movies since my Dad took me to some in the 60’s, this one left a major impression.

  • Paul Borden

    Loved “The Third Man” as a reflection of the intrigue of the times. Plus this quote: “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed—but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

  • souvoter

    I also liked ‘Million Dollar Baby’ with Clint Eastwood; you didn’t list this genius. And ‘A Beautiful Mind’ with Russell Crowe; but my favorite will always be ‘The Wizard of Oz’…

  • therealguyfaux

    Field Of Dreams? (*gag reflex*) It’s A Wonderful Life? (*puking guts out*) Two of the most nonsensical saccharine-ending, the-spirits-will-show-you-the-way pieces of dreck that were ever filmed?

    Still, any man who likes a dark comedy like A New Leaf or a fun childhood memory film like A Christmas Story is not irredeemable. Even if he does hate Robert DeNiro films. (The Untouchables was essentially a cameo for RDN so don’t let’s bring that one in– it was a star vehicle for that immortal genius of American cinema, Kevin Costner, aka Empty Suit– Sean Connery saves it from the bin, for me.) Shane (despite Alan Ladd, a great film) and Stairway To Heaven, two classics that should rank high on anyone’s list.

    I’d have added Chinatown and Godfather II, but then, I like Jack Nicholson and Robert DeNiro.

  • x_Liberal

    Great list, but you may want to reconsider some of the “comic book” movies. Yes they get pretty silly but ironically they are one of the few movie genres that consistently express conservative values (of course they don’t use the word conservative). Also, Ben Kingsley was superb in Iron Man 3.

  • Jeff Webb

    1930’s: Duck Soup
    1940’s: Pride of the Yankees
    1950’s: Blackboard Jungle
    1960’s: To Kill a Mockingbird
    1970’s: Superman (best theme song EVER!) and the Jerk

    1980’s: Ordinary People, Airplane, so many others

    1990’s: L.A. Confidential and L.A. Story

    21st: Law Abiding Citizen, Inglourious Basterds, the Avengers

    • John Daly

      L.A. Confidential’s one of my all time favorites. One might spot a little of its influence in my novel. 😉

      • Jeff Webb

        Subtle, kid, real subtle. I’ll give it a taste. : )>

  • John Daly

    Why is Showgirls missing from this list?

    • Paul Borden


  • JohnInMA

    You made a number of good selections that prove character development and good dialogue really carry a movie, even when the premise or plot might be mediocre or even a rehash.
    But being a geek at heart, I’d have to add “2001: A Space Odyssey” to the list. I’ve probably watched it 20 times. And even today some of the technology suggested and the art of its display is still relevant 45 years later. It just isn’t outdated yet…..well, except for the size of Hal’s hardware. It would fit on a single rack today.

  • RickonhisHarleyJohnson

    Great list, Burt. Some of yours are on mine, too. Here is one of mine from each decade (in order) – not on your list: The Four Feathers, King’s Row, The Rainmaker, The Music Man, Monte Walsh, ‘Breaker’ Morant, Mr. Saturday Night, Matchstick Men.

    You mentioned Walter Matthau. My favorite of his is Hopscotch.

  • Bloviating Ignoramus

    Do everyone a favor and stick to movie reviews bro!

  • Royalsfan67

    I actually agree with you on most of your snoozers Burt, but I did love Goodfellas and The Searchers, have watched both many times and enjoyed them each time. I also liked Platoon but a couple of viewings is enough.

    Casablanca is my favorite ever, glad to see it on your list.

    I like to see some movies on your list many have never heard of but that I really like, such as Dead Again and Falling Down.