The previous post must seem hollow with out some way to measure my taste in film. Anyone can say an entire industry is a shitpile of epic proportions, but it takes a true film fanatic to support that claim with a list of celluloid masterpieces everyone should watch at least once (even if it is just to totally disagree with me). This list includes some of the greatest films no one has ever heard of as well as some films everyone has heard of. I have a lot of different favorites, each for a different reason, but if I had to bring just ten films with me to a desert island, these are the films I would choose.
10. The Wild Bunch – Sam Peckinpah was a master storyteller and he may or may not have used the color red a little too liberally. While some of his other films may be considered equally entertaining, The Wild Bunch features an all-star cast of hollywood misfits including Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, and Strother Martin. William Holden, as the bunch’s leader, wasn’t Peckinpah’s first choice (or second, third, fourth, or fifth), but i doubt any one could imagine someone else in that role. Make sure you get the unedited version for maximum impact.
09. The Killing – Kubrick is considered to be among the most influential filmmakers of his generation and this film rivals Dr. Strangelove as his most cherished effort. The Killing is a really short film by today’s standards clocking in at a little more than 1hr 37min. What makes this remarkable is that this film has very little in the way of the filler scenes that make up a good third of today’s productions. It is a text book example of a heist film.
08. Reservoir Dogs – Quentin Tarantino is a huge film geek. Lots of people, especially other film geeks, hate him because they feel his movies are unoriginal. I disagree strongly. Quentin takes things from his favorite genres and makes them accessible. His films are always entertaining and this can be considered his masterpiece. Traditional heist films always focus on the events leading up to the caper or the caper itself. Quentin turned the genre around and focused instead on the aftermath and the drama that results from a failed robbery. He never shows what actually happens during the heist, instead showing us everything that happened once everything fell apart.
07. The Night of the Hunter – This film is notable for a number of reasons, the least of which is Robert Mitchum portraying a bad guy. Few stars these days are willing to play characters with NO socially redeeming traits for fear of hurting their box office pull, but Mitchum, directed here by the underrated Charles Laughton, is mesmerizing as a conman/preacher hellbent on getting his hands on a cache of stolen money. This film is also notable for putting children in peril (one of the first films to actually make a child the target of a homicidal maniac). In addition, you will be amazed at how HOT Shelly Winters looks in this early effort. The plot was based on the true story of Harry Powers, who was hanged in 1932 for the murders of two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
06. Pulp Fiction – Yes. Two. Two Quentin Tarantino films on my list. You may ask yourself why. The simple answer is that he is by far the most interesting filmmaker in Hollywood. Along with Robert Rodriguez, Tarantino represents the filmmaking cabal looking to entertain without falling into the trap set by the Hollywood studio system. Pulp Fiction represents a type of filmmaking that had been absent for YEARS before Quentin and Roger Avary decided to kick Hollywood in the nuts and make a film that jumped around in the timeline of standard storytelling. Without Tarantino and Avary, a film like Memento would NEVER have been made in the Hollywood system.
05. Double Indemnity – Fred McMurray, of My Three Son’s fame, as a gullible murderer? Who knew he had it in ‘im? I love film noir and this is just a masterpiece of the genre. Barbara Stanwyck as the femme fatale steals just about every scen she is in.
04. Yojimbo – If I had to pick one director’s movies to save as the missles were falling, I wouldn’t hesitate… Akira Kurosawa’s films came first and then everyone else simply copied him. I find it ironic that most of the legendary westerns were actually either inspired by or outright copied from the most influential director to ever come out of the Far East. Yojimbo is a tale of a lone samurai who plays two sides of gang war to his profit. Toshiro Mifune, a staple of Kurosawa’s films, plays the samurai and is still the inspiration for every single hero I ever put down on the page.
03. The Bridge on the River Kwai – When I was a kid, I watched a shit load of movies. I was a latchkey kid and instead of going out robbing liquor stores with the rest of the hoodlums in my neighborhood, I watched movies on KCOP Channel 13 and KTLA Channel 5. These two LA stations played the BEST FUCKING MOVIES 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Bridge on the River Kwai introduced me to Alec Guiness long before he rocked my socks off as Obi Wan Kenobi. An epic adventure movie about loyalty, teamwork and survival. How can you not love this movie?
02. Chinatown – I’ve been writing for such a long time that I can’t honestly remember a time when I wasn’t. When I was a kid though, I wanted to be novelist, but this film changed my mind and convinced me that screenwriting was the ultimate writing profession around. To this day, Robert Towne’s screenplay for Chinatown ranks among the best screenplays EVER FUCKING WRITTEN. If you can ever get your hands on this script, read it. It is an amazing demonstration of story-telling, but more importantly, it is a text-book example of why screenplays should be considered yet another written medium worthy of mass production. The film is a classic, and showcases exactly why Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway are legends in Hollywood.
I’ll have to devote an entire post to the number one film on my list… Later.