Must Remember These
critics pick 10 films that have stayed with them over the
Laura Leon, Ann Morrow, John Rodat and Shawn Stone
the movies that truly matter to me are those of a bygone era,
something that will be apparent when looking at my list. This
is due, in part, to the fact that from my earliest memories,
I watched one old movie a day, courtesy of the three New York
City channels that my hometown of Great Barrington, Mass.,
got in the late 1960s and early ’70s; this enabled me to catch
the likes of Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell
and the like in all their glory. Newer movies on my list are
primarily those that I saw on my own, on Saturday afternoons
at the Mahaiwe Theater or, with my family at the drive-in.
The unifying factor probably is that almost all of these were
movies that were shared with people I loved the most. One
note: I did not include any films by my favorite director,
John Ford, because I just couldn’t narrow it down to one;
I couldn’t choose between They Were Expendable and
The Searchers. Nevertheless, both of these haunt and
comfort me to this day. So, in order of issue:
creepy and highly entertaining movie about a criminal (Lon
Chaney) on the run from the law who hides out in a circus
show, pretending that he has no arms. He falls for a very
young Joan Crawford, who likes the safety she feels with a
guy who isn’t always pawing her.
Way Passage (1932)
is what is known as a three-hankie picture. Fugitive William
Powell romances dying (and spectacularly dressed) Kay Francis
aboard ship. It’s absolutely lovely.
Way for Tomorrow (1937)
spent years perusing the TV listings in hopes of having the
chance to see this lovely, moving picture again. A shockingly
frank look at how younger generations treat old parents, here
played beautifully by Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi. It’ll
leave you one weepy, guilt-ridden mess.
Baby Face, a movie that, at least initially, isn’t
afraid to put a spotlight on the grim realities faced by poor,
working woman. Granted, Mannequin catapults lead Joan Crawford
from the tenements to high fashion, but its earliest scenes,
depicting squalid living and working conditions, defeated
women, and a shabby wedding lunch, speak volumes about the
need for escape, and how we haven’t really come that far after
hangover: Teresa Wright and Dana Andrews in The Best Years
of Our Lives.
Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
this postwar drama with my father every time it was on TV;
he was a World War II vet who came home to a world entirely
unlike anything he could have imagined, or would have wanted.
Scenes such as the one in which Fredric March tries to reconnect
with his family, or when Dana Andrews remembers combat from
the cockpit of a retired fighter plane, are just a memorable
as those in which an elderly father tenderly cares for his
crippled vet son.
of Evil (1948)
one of those gems for which I search, usually in vain, in
the TV listings. I love this film noir not so much for its
cult status, but for its rich, textured dialogue and photography,
and, of course, for the troubled visage of star John Garfield.
Parker plays a young woman sent to prison for a first-time
offense. While there, she is thoroughly victimized—she must
give up her newborn, she gets her head shaved, and even her
kitten gets killed. The vaguely lesbian overtones exhibited
by prison matron Hope Emerson add a weird sexual vibe to the
whole thing. As a child, I was titillated. As an adult, I
Upon a Time in the West (1968)
me shocked to see perennial good guy Henry Fonda as a cruel
and manipulative gunslinger. Director Sergio Leone’s shrewd
use of Fonda’s famous baby blues is as provocative as the
sight of Claudia Cardinale, bare shoulders exposed, delivering
water to hundreds of railroad workers.
perhaps, but I saw this at a time when my family was being
torn apart by various internal and external forces, and my
view of the world was increasingly dark and troubled. It’s
not so much the vigilantism of Death Wish that’s stayed
with me, but the evocative sense of a decaying city and increasingly
of Heaven (1978)
filmed love triangle in which Brooke Adams has to choose between
Richard Gere and an equally yummy Sam Shepard, set at the
turn of the century amid the wheat-filled plains of this country.
It’s a movie that I cannot bear to see on television, for
fear that its majesty will be lost, but I’ve replayed it in
my mind for nearly three decades.
skewering of the artistic ego is not only visually sumptuous
but also bleakly, hysterically funny—like an artistic collaboration
between Sartre and Terry Southern.
movie about a writer in peril, though more bodily than existentially.
Billy Wilder directs like he’s working from a textbook, but
his effect is bang on; and William Holden’s voice alone makes
him one of film’s great antiheroes.
about Timothy “Speed” Levitch, a half-cracked aesthete/philosopher/performance
artist/Manhattan bus-tour guide. He’s both Oscar Wilde and
Woody Allen, and an absolute inspiration. Or a dire warning—tough
trumps talent in Chris Smith’s documentary about low-budget
horror-film maker Mark Borchardt. If ever there were an illustration
of the journey being more important than the destination,
this guy is it.
setting limits: The Five Obstructions.
5 Obstructions (2003)
documentary, Lars Von Trier challenges his former mentor,
Jorgen Leth, to remake one of Leth’s early short films, but
with conditions—the titular obstructions—designed to frustrate.
The idea is that limitations are integral to art. It’s an
argument worth having; and, at any rate, it’s great fun to
watch Von Trier torture the older filmmaker.
& Screaming (1995)
caught a fragment of Noah Baumbach’s directorial debut at
some obscene hour on cable TV. Over the course of the month
or so that it was playing on that channel, I assembled it
in collage, never able to get it from beginning to end in
one sitting. The fact that there’s a Will Farrell movie of
the same name made it tough to find in local video places.
I became slightly obsessed. I think the movie itself is only
slightly better than average, but, man, have I spent a lot
of time with it.
Leigh’s Naked is one of the most divisive movies I’ve
ever had conversations about. David Thewlis evokes an absolutely
loathsome character—a relentlessly exploitive man who seems
bent on a self-fulfilling prophecy of the pointlessness of
existence—who is, nevertheless, completely compelling. Unless
you disagree, in which case he and the movie are merely repellent.
in Paradise (1932)
Stone hipped me to this comedy, directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
I still owe him for pointing out this delightfully amoral
crime caper/romantic comedy.
and/or grandly self-deluded people struggling heroically.
Gets me every time. Plus, a totally bonkers, kitschy, tripped-out
party scene. Maybe the last movie Dustin Hoffman should have
been allowed to make.
of Lost Children (1995)
and dreamlike in the best sense of the word. It’s weird and
dark and only loosely logical. Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunot
cast faces like individual artworks.
put, Alien is on the list because it’s frightening.
The sci-fi plot—astronauts are picked off one-by-one by a
slowly revealed monster—is elevated by the imaginatively creepy
production, especially the bizarrely machinelike yet disgustingly
animalistic monster (based on H.R. Giger drawings), and its
suspenseful pacing. Alien is also memorable for its
believable, fully dimensional woman hero (Sigourney Weaver).
multi-Oscar winner is another movie that I’ve watched several
times with new appreciation. That’s because I’m a history
buff, and also because of the authentic and evocative cinematography,
and especially because of the love story, and finally because
of how it shows the tragic, bloody consequences of war, whether
for conquest or for freedom.
Lizard’s Club Dread (2004)
farcical lampoon of teen slasher flicks cracked me up more
than any other comedy in recent years. The ridiculous plot,
involving an island resort owned by a Jimmy Buffet send-up
(Bill Paxton), is amusingly ribald, but it’s the sight gags—such
as a gaggle of vacationers dressed as fruits (and one cheese-dipped
pretzel) and running for their lives from a serial killer
in a shrubbery maze—that make Club Dread a funnier
trip than all the Scary Movie and Scream movies
From the Madding Crowd (1967)
seen John Schlesinger’s adaptation since I was a teenager,
but I remember how strongly I felt at the time that the landscapes
and interiors were familiar to me—a feeling that was even
more vivid than when I had read the Thomas Hardy novel. I
recently found out a possible reason why: The film was shot
on locations in Dorset that once belonged to many generations
of my English ancestors. Hardy, who lived nearby, used the
estate as a setting in all of his Wessex novels.
of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
really isn’t much left to be said about Peter Jackson’s triumphant
adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy. After several
viewings, I still think Fellowship is the most imaginative
of the three epics.
mystery: Scarlett Johansson in Girl With a Pearl Earring.
With a Pearl Earring (2003)
fictionalized biography of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer
creates a persona for the model for his most famous works
in the form of his beautiful assistant (Scarlett Johansson),
who is not, contrary to cliché, his mistress. Director Peter
Webber captures Vermeer’s life and times with exquisite finesse;
it’s also notable for Alexander Desplat’s superlative score.
affecting of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue, White
and Red trilogy, Blue follows a grief-stricken
young woman (luminous Juliette Binoche) as she recovers from
the deaths of her composer husband and child and begins a
new, grim life in a Paris apartment. At the urging of her
husband’s musical assistant, she completes his last work and
is renewed by art. Kieslowski masterfully takes the film from
the depths of devastation to a joyous conclusion.
fable about a motherless little boy who dreams of the lives
of the saints, discovers a bag of stolen money, and uses it
to do good works. It’s an unexpected delight from director
Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Cuaron’s vision of Hogwart’s School of Wizardry contains an
admirable amount of the enchantment and mischievousness of
J.K. Rowling’s writing, well deserving its two Academy Award
nominations, for visual effects and John Williams’ original
Lion King (1994)
call it a cartoon: Disney’s animated yet Shakespearean classic
about the line of succession (and the circle of life) in the
savanna is truly a film for all ages. Among its many grown-up
virtues are the zippy songs by Elton John, Jeremy Irons’ voicing
for the sinister uncle Scar, Nathan Lane’s voicing (and singing)
for a comedic meerkat, Hans Zimmerman’s African-choral inspired
score, and the amazing color palette.
have cooked up the idea for this feature, but I had a hell
of a time picking just 10 films. So, in the order that I discovered
them, here’s my list—and these aren’t my absolute favorites:
Black Cat (1934)
up on Universal horror movies. Here, Boris Karloff is a Satanist
architect and Bela Lugosi is his deranged nemesis; they battle
for the soul of an American girl on an icily beautiful Bauhaus
set. There’s kinky sexual subtext galore and—as a bonus—a
black mass. The things they used to broadcast on Saturday
afternoons as kids’ entertainment.
Fatal Glass of Beer (1933)
Fields is a Yukon denizen who, in the course of two reels,
sings a tuneless song about his errant son, tries to milk
an elk, explains the finer points of eating sled dogs (they’re
“mighty good with mustard”), shares a morose dinner with his
grim wife, and stares offscreen periodically, intoning “and
it ain’t a fit night out for man nor beast.” It’s the goddamndist
thing I’ve ever seen.
Upon a Time in the West (1968)
epic Sergio Leone western was heavily edited for TV in the
1970s. I saw it uncut in 1986, in Paris, where it was getting
a theatrical rerelease. Dubbed into French (which I don’t
speak), sans subtitles, this widescreen ode to revenge against
capitalist cruelty still knocked me out.
Rendez-vous d’Anna (1978)
saw this on VHS video, but Chantal Akerman’s muted, episodic
look at the life of an alienated 30-something filmmaker haunted
me for weeks after I saw it. Akerman’s use of sound, in particular,
affected me—it got into my dreams, and made me experience
other movies in a different way.
Docks of New York (1928)
think this is one of the most visually beautiful films ever
made. It’s the usual Josef von Sternberg-directed stew of
romantic cynicism, set in Paramount’s vision of a seedy waterfront.
The images, saturated with smoke, captured through filmy fabrics
or composed in baroque frames-within-frames, are dazzling.
And the acting is Hollywood at its star-powered finest.
and forgotten: Honey's Nancy Carroll
This Is Paris (1926)
Ernst Lubitsch sex comedy skewers the bourgeoisie while, simultaneously,
letting them triumph. You know, like in real life. A middle-class
doctor cheats on his wife with a dancer; the dancer’s husband
pursues the doctor’s wife; and it all ends in a dizzy, stupendous
Charleston contest at a massive Parisian ball.
two Richard Linklater-directed gabfests feature Julie Delpy
and Ethan Hawke as dithering would-be lovers who jabber away
as they wander around Vienna and Paris. Smart, especially
in the way youthful idealism gives way to middle-age ennui.
the Mood for Love (2000)
Kar-Wei’s moody romantic tone poem flopped because there were
no sex scenes, but if you can’t appreciate the eroticism in
the way Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung relate to each other,
you might as well be dead.
have picked one of any number of pre-1940 Hollywood musical
comedies, but this bauble, in particular, is everything I
love about the genre: tuneful, forgettable songs; cheerfully
terrible jokes; paper-thin plot; and a cast loaded with appealing
personalities. And it stars one of the most criminally forgotten
of all forgotten stars, Nancy Carroll.