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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.