I’ve been trying to catch up on reading I skipped in my favorite college courses and revisiting favorite films from years past. I thought just for the fun of it I would serve up my list of 10 favorite films as they occur to me today. When I ran it by a close friend this past Saturday, his only comment was: “How old are you?” Good question! I serve it up in the hope that it might give readers a lead or two.
1. Cool Hand Luke: Paul Newman is the existential hero of this incredibly audacious, funny, and moving film that is also full of great lines.
2. Two For the Road: Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn star in this film written by Frederic Raphael and directed by Stanley Donen. It seems to me one of the wittiest films ever made and not too bad on the subject of marriage.
3. High and Low: The great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa appropriated the plot of an Ed McBain (Evan Hunter) 87th precinct novel to make this ineffably great film. Kurosawa made a lot of them. This is my stand-in for the rest.
4. One-Eyed Jacks: This Western stars Marlon Brando and Karl Malden in a story of revenge that turns into a love story. Brando also directed. I didn’t want this long movie to end. Great line: “You’re a one-eyed jack around here, Dad, but I’ve seen the other side of your face.”
5. The Seventh Seal: Ingmar Bergman wrote and directed. Max Von Sydow stars as the knight making his way home from the Crusades when he is confronted by Death. He challenges Death to a game of chess. Like Kurosawa, Bergman made an absurd number of great films and this one is my stand-in for the rest. Woody Allen cites Summer with Monika (1953) as the Bergman film that fired his imagination.
6. Sleeper: Speaking of Woody Allen….he found his own way to face down death in this cryogenic comedy. Among serious writers working the cryogenic beat in this era were Keith Mano in The Death and Life of Harry Goth and Thomas Berger in Vital Parts. Woody Allen threw in a portrait of dystopia for good measure.
7. The Ascent : This is a Russian film by director Larisa Shepitko looking back at World War II and it is utterly riveting.
8. My Favorite Year: Peter O’Toole stars in this comedy based on the writers’ room of Your Show of Shows from the era of live television. I can’t imagine this movie working without O’Toole; he is magnificent in it. The movie playfully explores illusion versus reality. I laughed from beginning to end.
9. Christmas In July: One of writer/director Preston Sturges’s lesser known films, I think it stands with his best.
10. The Best Years of Our Lives: Directed by William Wyler, written by Robert Sherwood, this film tells the intersecting stories of three men returning home from World War II. Every American should see it. Mark Harris tells the incredible story behind it in the book Five Came Back, also highly recommended.
I could easily continue with my next 10 favorite films — I could go from 11 to 20 with John Ford films alone — but I’ll leave it here this morning.