Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Top 100

Look, I know best-of lists are the last refuge of a scoundrel.

But I'm gonna give y'all my 100 favorite movies. It's a Sisyphean affair because I'm sure it'll change in a few months, and forever, as I discover and rediscover the cinema. But for now, here we go (in a format I totally ripped off from Esquire):

100. Marty (1953, Delbert Mann)
because Rod Steiger's slouchy performance was as good as Brando.

99. The Blair Witch Project (1999, Eduardo Sánchez & Daniel Myrick) 
because hardly anyone has noticed just how flawlessly it’s constructed.

98. Make Way for Tomorrow (1937, Leo McCarey)
because it ripped my heart right out of my body.

97. The Invisible Man (1933, James Whale)
because Claude Rains would’ve made a great Bugs Bunny.

96. Ordet (1955, Carl Th. Dreyer)
because miracles are terrifying.

95. Shaun of the Dead (2004, Edgar Wright)
because it’s so excited to be on screen.

94. Dog Day Afternoon (1975, Sidney Lumet)
because we have to shout to be heard.

93. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Luis Buñuel)
because it understands what it hates.

92. Detour (1945, Edgar G. Ulmer)
because it was no accident - if you’re good enough, you can make a masterpiece in a week.

91. Deliverance (1972, John Boorman)
because it captures the terrible power of nature.

90. An American Werewolf in London (1981, John Landis)
because Jenny Agutter is a vision.

89. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, Woody Allen)
because we're all such shitheads.

88. Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick)
because American murder can be unsettlingly sexy.

87. The Intruder (1962, Roger Corman) 
because it was so good it even scared the creators.

86. Vampyr (1932, Carl Th. Dreyer)
because it is an actual, honest-to-God nightmare.

85. The Road Warrior (1981, George Miller)
because it’s a ballet with cars.

84. Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang)
because it was smarter than it realized.

83. King Kong (1933, Ernest B. Schoedsack)
because I still don’t know what it’s saying, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

82. Imitation of Life (1959, Douglas Sirk)
because at the moment of death, we realize how little we know about one another.

81. Forbidden Planet (1956, Fred M. Wilcox)
because sometimes I can’t believe a movie so pretty exists.

80. Chimes at Midnight (1965, Orson Welles)
because if he wanted to, Orson Welles probably could’ve remade Lawrence of Arabia in the trunk of a car and we’d believe every second of it.

79. Blast of Silence (1965, Allen Baron)
because it was fifteen years ahead of its time.

78. Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)
because it was so good, it retroactively made Kill Bill and Grindhouse better.

77. Rocky (1976, John G. Avildsen)
because it's what we needed, and because it's somehow still an underdog.

76. The Thin Red Line (1998, Terrence Malick)
because war is a violation.

75. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949, John Ford)
because of that moment when John Wayne is self-conscious about his reading glasses.

74. Ran (1985, Akira Kurosawa)
because every storyboard was a painting and it shows.

73. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, Robert Mulligan)
because we should all be more like Atticus.

72. Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997, Werner Herzog)
because even Herzog is in awe.

71. The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)
because, like life, it goes from despair to joy as naturally as breathing.

70. Surviving Desire (1991, Hal Hartley)
because “The trouble with us Americans is that we always want a tragedy with a happy ending” might be the most important line of the 1990s.

69. Lazybones (1925, Frank Borzage)
because Borzage wore his heart on his sleeve.

68. I, You, He, She (1974, Chantal Akerman)
because sometimes we collapse.

67. Autumn Sonata (1978, Ingmar Bergman)
because I. Bergman and I. Bergman both had the confidence of experience on their side.

66. 12 Angry Men (1957, Sidney Lumet)
because it should be hard to convict someone of murder.

65. Wings of Desire (1987, Wim Wenders)
because life is a gift.

64. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)
because Hitchcock – like Anthony Mann – understood that Jimmy Stewart is at his best when he scares us.

63. The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman)
because it's actually pretty funny.

62. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)
because it's like watching a child's dreams come to life.

61. The Grapes of Wrath (1940, John Ford)
because it's somehow even better than the novel.

60. Bring It On (2000, Peyton Reed)
because you can hide so much wit behind a short skirt and a wink.

59. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966, Sergio Leone)
because that scene when Tuco speaks to his brother is what separates it from the rest of the pack.

58. The Gold Rush (1925, Charles Chaplin)
because nobody ever needed so badly to be loved.

57. Fargo (1996, Joel Coen)
because what else can you say in the face of evil but “don’t you know any better?” 

56. Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)
because James Whale knew he had Universal by the balls.

55. Almost Famous (2000, Cameron Crowe)
because it made us all notice how good “Tiny Dancer” is.

54. Last Summer (1969, Frank Perry)
because the scary transition from innocence to cruelty makes it the best movie still unavailable on DVD.

53. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
because of the way Fassbinder lingers a second too long.

52. Young Mr. Lincoln (1939, John Ford)
because of that moment when a hundred years melts away.

51. A Woman Under the Influence (1974, John Cassavetes)
because Peter Falk, but because Gena Rowlands.

50. The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed)
because any five minutes of it is better than most filmmakers’ entire careers.

49. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991, James Cameron)
because of how much is said without being said at all.

48. Stroszek (1977, Werner Herzog)
because film can make a glockenspiel in an alley as important as Mozart.

47. Stagecoach (1939, John Ford)
because in the final reel Ford broke the rules so well, we didn’t even realize he was breaking them.

46. Sherlock, Jr. (1924, Buster Keaton)
because Buster Keaton's got moxie.

45. The Thing from Another World (1951, Christian Nyby & Howard Hawks)
because it’s in love with the entire human race.

44. Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)
because rain.

43. The Searchers (1956, John Ford)
because it's so broken-hearted.

42. Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)
because Jimmy Stewart is us.

41. Ed Wood (1994, Tim Burton)
because it treats the premiere of Plan 9 as a personal triumph.

40. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock)
because Hitchcock plays us so deftly, you can practically hear him laughing.

39. Network (1976, Sidney Lumet)
because as good as the bombast is, everyone forgets that perfect little break-up scene.

38. Lessons of Darkness (1992, Werner Herzog)
because it turns an atrocity into a Creation Myth.

37. Jurassic Park (1993, Steven Spielberg)
because it's still breathtaking, and it always will be.

36. Shadow of a Doubt (1943, Alfred Hitchcock)
because we still shrink when Joseph Cotten turns to the camera.

35. Hoop Dreams (1994, Steve James)
because it absolutely positively needed to be made.

34. Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scosese)
because it is better than The Godfather.

33. F for Fake (1973, Orson Welles)
because it's still ahead of the curve.

32. Nothing But a Man (1964, Michael Roemer)
because all of us have to try even when the odds are against us.

31. Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)
because it's easy to forget how understated it is.

30. All That Heaven Allows (1955, Douglas Sirk)
because it had to be told in Technicolor.

29. The Barbarian Invasions (2003, Denys Arcand)
because we should all be so lucky.

28. 8 1/2 (1963, Frederico Fellini)
because life is a carnival.

27. Paths of Glory (1957, Stanley Kubrick)
because of the horrible inevitability of the ending.

26. The Docks of New York (1928, Josef von Sternberg)
because fog is sexy.

25. The Birds (1963, Alfred Hitchcock)
because of the abject horror of the absurd.

24. Night of the Living Dead (1968, George A. Romero)
because the dead are always at the door.

23. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)
because it's still fooling us.

22. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, Mike Nichols)
because it's the exact movie I'll always wish I made.

21. The Three Colors (1992-1993, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
because I'm cheating.

20. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean)
because oh my God!

19. The Human Condition (1959-1961, Masaki Kobayashi)
because it lives up to the title.

18. Frankenstein (1931, James Whale)
because of the absolute balls-out arrogance of the opening warning.

17. Days of Heaven (1978, Terrence Malick)
because it's an American Folk Art Museum come to life.

16. Unforgiven (1992, Clint Eastwood)
because he'll never come back.

15. Shane (1953, George Stevens)
because I'm still waiting for him to come back.

14. Harakiri (1962, Masaki Kobayashi)
because of how much Kobayashi hates death.

13. Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)
because Ridley Scott shoots monsters like religious relics.

12. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg)
because I love that, to Spielberg, being confronted with our smallness in the world breeds intimacy, not coldness.

11. Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola)
because nothing like it will ever come out of Hollywood again.

10. Do the Right Thing (1989)
because it makes us sweat.

9. Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog)
because when he says he's the wrath of God, we believe it.

8. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Th. Dreyer)
because it's the closest film has ever come to time travel.

7. Jaws (1975, Steven Spielberg)
because we're all on an island besieged by a shark.

6. Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)
because it is perfect.

5. My Darling Clementine (1946, John Ford)
because Ford's unearthly mastery over small details was never stronger.

4. Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese)
because nobody has ever probed the darkness within us with such grace and grimy beauty.

3. Memories of Murder (2003, Bong Joon-ho)
because the overwhelming cruelty of it makes us savor the overwhelming beauty of it. 

2. City Lights (1931, Charles Chaplin)
because Chaplin makes it look so easy.

1. Aliens (1986, James Cameron)
because of the audacity - and perfect logic - of the premise, and because it raised the bar so high that in 20+ years nothing else has even come close. 

and some runners-up:

Amok (1934)
Apaches (1977)
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1985)
Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
Daisies (1966)
The Dead (1987)
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Fat City (1972)
Fires on the Plain (1959)
Floating Weeds (1959)
The Gunfighter (1950)
Hamlet (1964)
House (1977)
The Human Voice (1966)
The Hustler (1961)
The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912)
L’Atalante (1933)
Law of Vengeance (1933)
Little Fugitive (1953)
Long Pants (1927)
The Man from Laramie (1955)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
Mike’s Murder (1984)
Mikey and Nicky (1976)
Nashville (1975)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
The Red Shoes (1948)
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Rio Bravo (1958)
Safe (1995)
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Shame (2011)
Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
The Spook Who Sat By the Door (1973)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
Targets (1968)
Them! (1954)
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
W.R. - Mysteries of the Organism (1971)
Walden: Diaries, Notes, and Sketches (1969)
The War Game (1965)
The Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965)
Wild Strawberries (1957)
Zodiac (2007)


  1. No Robert Bresson, no David Cronenberg, and the only Howard Hawks is a technicality? And where's The Friends of Eddie Coyle? On Dangerous Ground? Wizard of Oz?

    Way to go, John D'Amico you fucking hack.

    Good call on Bring It On, though. Movie owns.

    - John D'Amico

    1. Yeah, you give that John what for!

      Glad to see some Hal Hartley on here, and #1 was definitely a surprise. Good list, I'll have to check Memories of a Murder and a few others of these out.

  2. You're the first one I come across to point out the truely great scene between Tuco and his brother. I always find it incredibly moving. "The Good, The Bad..." is the King of Spaghetti Westerns i.m.o, much better and more complete than "Once upon a Time in the West".

  3. If it wasn't for that scene and the scene where Blondie gives the soldier his coat, GBU wouldn't be on the list and The Great Silence - which is superior in so many other ways - probably would.

  4. because of the beauty in brevity.


    Loved reading this, even though (or maybe because) it barely matches my own top 100, which incidentally:

    Favorite sentences were for #63, #62, and #13.

    Also, asked it on Twitter but seeing you've got Memories of Murder at #3, I'll ask it again - have you seen Mark Cousins' series Story of Film yet? Because if so, you must love it and if not, you will.

    1. I keep putting off The Story of Film. I always have trouble with that kind of thing because I feel obscurely obliged to watch EVERY MOVIE EVER before I watch them. But I'll bump it up on my list for sure.

    2. Just checked your list and "100 of my favorite movies" is probably the smartest way to phrase such a thing as I've ever seen. They're not too different! Lots of Hitchcock, Ford, Dreyer, Chaplin. The essentials.

  5. Yeah, he does do spoilers so I feel ya, but to me it's worth the risk. Anyway, he captions each film as the clips begin (I'm thinking of screen-capping these moments and creating a visual directory for all the films featured in the doc) so if you sense something you might not want to know, you can always skip forward. The whole thing's on instant Netflix, so very easy to watch. Bon voyage!