They're like old friends we can go back to again and again for comfort and joy, or old lovers we recall wistfully, or old sweethearts, now grown old and sloppy and leaving us wondering what we ever saw in them. The movies that we remember in our lives -- the films that delighted us because they were great or because they were so perfectly suited to their times or because they so perfectly suited ours -- are an odd collection of public accolade and private joke.
| File Photo / Every character in the Maltese Falcon matches the mind's eye view of Dashiell Hammett's detective story. Humphrey Bogart as the tough-guy P.I. Sam Spade is perfectly cast.|
|File Photo / Gritty and romantic, Casablanca defines Second World War nobility and gave us our image of Humphrey Bogart as the tough cynic who nonetheless still believed in love and democracy.|
|File Photo / Orson Welles attends the 1941 preview screening of his film Citizen Kane, a classic biography of William Randolph Hearst and critique of fame, power and money that has never lost its charm.|
|File Photo / The Wizard Of Oz, with its wistful, innocent message of Home, stars Judy Garland as the determined Dorothy.|
A list of best movies of the millennium, which means 900 years of blank screens and 100 years following the actual invention of the medium, is pretty easy to put together if you just want to list all the classics and critically acclaimed Great Works of Art. But if you want to look at favourite movies instead, you wind up with a far more personal collection.
For instance, in 1964, I was an usher at the movie theatre at Yorkdale Mall in Toronto, at the time the largest covered mall in Canada. The movie complex there had an astounding two screens for your viewing pleasure and if you were an usher -- remember ushers? -- you got to see the same movies over and over again, until you wanted to throw yourself into the projector mechanism. I experienced countless viewings of such enduring shlock as Goodbye Charlie (a dead man returns as a dog) and Sex and the Single Girl (Natalie Wood as Helen Gurley Brown), an experience that laid the early groundwork for a professional cynicism that serves me yet.
However, the Yorkdale was also showing a little film called Rattle of A Simple Man, a kitchen sink British drama that was not quite as treacly as it sounds. It starred a winning actor named Harry H. Corbett as a virginal middle-aged man who meets his true love in beautiful waitress Diane Cilento (then Mrs. Sean Connery). It was a lovely little story, funny and sentimental, and it opened my eyes to non-Hollywood movies, and if I had any guts at all I would put it on my list of 100 Favourite Movies of All Time.
Actually, if I had any guts I would put on the short movie that accompanied Rattle of A Simple Man. I don't remember what it was called, but it took place in Scotland and there was a scene where a man in a kilt is playing the bagpipes outside someone's house at night, and the guy in the house opens the window and sticks out his head and says, in a full tenor brogue, "Who's makin' that horryble din?" It's a line I've used many times in my life, and no one ever knows what I'm talking about (most of them don't recognize my attempt at a Scottish accent, either, which further enhances my reputation.)
A Yorkdale movie that does make my list is Robin and the Seven Hoods, a decidedly B-film Rat Pack production with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and the rest acting out the Robin Hood story in old Chicago. This is the movie that introduced the song (My Kind of Town) Chicago.
The reason I love the film, however, has nothing to do with Frank and Sammy. Peter Falk, in his pre-Columbo days, was one of my favourite actors of the era, and his portrayal as a rival gangster is one of the great comic turns in cinema, right up there with Ron Moody's brilliant Fagin in the musical Oliver. I always watch this film when it appears on TV just to see Falk's hilarious version of hoodlum exasperation. Robin and the Seven Hoods isn't much of a movie, but Peter Falk makes it great.
Of course, this puts me in the position of having a Rat Pack film on my 100 list and omitting anything by Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, D.W. Griffith and several dozen more movie geniuses. Just take it as given that I acknowledge them as such.
I have not included such masterworks as Ray's Apu Trilogy for the simple reason that I never saw it. There are classics aplenty on my list, but they're classics that I actually loved, rather than films I feel duty-bound to list.
A final word about the No. 1 movie, Citizen Kane, which is kind of a Best Film cliche at this point (it was also No. 1 in the American Film Institute's recent list of 100 top American movies of all time.)
I heard about Citizen Kane long before I saw it. One of its champions was Pauline Kael, former film critic for The New Yorker magazine and a hero of mine when I was a downy-cheeked lad who had seen even fewer films than I have today.
I knew that Citizen Kane was a classic from the old copies of The New Yorker that my family kept in the trunk of my father's Pontiac Parisienne, for some reason. However, I knew nothing about Orson Welles, William Randolph Hearst, deep-focus, RKO Studios or any of the other subtexts and sidelights and film school analysis that made it so.
One day when I was about 20, there was an ad in the paper that said Citizen Kane would be showing at an art house theatre on College Street in Toronto, where I grew up. I told my friend Bob that we should go and see it because it was a classic, an invitation that was about as fishy as it sounds, except that Bob always got a kick out of my enthusiasms. The New Yorker was considered pretty arcane reading material in our crowd.
And so Saturday afternoon found us watching a film about which I knew nothing except that it was a classic. I knew what "classic" meant in other fields such as literature -- it meant "boring" and "good for you" -- but one trusted Pauline Kael. And as Citizen Kane unfolded, I felt from the screen a primitive sense of the energy and invention of this great movie. I didn't know I was seeing techniques that Orson Welles had invented, but there was something about the sheer bravura of the film-making that engaged me: the swooping shots, the fractured storytelling, the naturalistic acting, the plot itself that combined gossip, biography and a critique of fame, wealth and American power that was right up my alley in those days.
And when the movie turned out to have a surprise ending, another of my enthusiasms, I was overjoyed: I got it. This was a classic film that I loved.
Film, it turned out, was something I understood. Pauline Kael and I, joined at the hip.
And the great thing about Citizen Kane was the more I learned about it and about Welles and about Hearst, the more I loved it. It is a film that has never lost its charm or power. Throw in a sense of pride that I liked a movie that I was supposed to like, and you have an easy No. 1.
Before the screening of Citizen Kane that day, there was a trailer for the next week's movie, something called Yojimbo. It showed a samurai fighter (played by the very wonderful Toshiro Mifune) carving up his opponents with lightning swordwork, and training by throwing a knife into a leaf that was blowing across a table striated with sunbeams. Bob and I looked at each other: We were both huge fans of Japanese martial arts, knife-throwing and guys who carved up their opponents. Thus I was introduced to Japanese cinema and the work of Akira Kurosawa, another endlessly fascinating relationship in my life.
Yojimbo was later remade into two Westerns, one called A Fistful of Dollars that introduced Clint Eastwood as a movie star and the second called Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis. (The plot itself was lifted from a Dashiell Hammett book called The Glass Key.) But that was all to come later. For now there was Citizen Kane under my belt and Yojimbo to come and who knew what other wonders up there on the screen.
Here are some of the ones I enjoyed the most.
1. Citizen Kane.
Another film I have seen so many times I can practically recite the dialogue along with the actors (My wife and I go to the Mayfair Theatre to watch it every Valentine's Day.) Gritty and romantic, it defines Second World War nobility and gave us our image of Humphrey Bogart as the tough cynic who nonetheless still
believed in love and democracy. I also love the performance of Claude Rains. The scene where the people in the bar sing The Marseillaise has never failed to raise goosebumps. Lines that have made it into my life: the old German couple practising telling time in English so they can go to America. She: What watch? He: Ten watch. She: Such watch?
3. The Wizard of Oz
This may have been the first movie I ever saw in a theatre, and I must say I've never felt the same about flying monkeys. Another perennial I watch every time it is on TV for the imagination, humour and innocent message about Home. I also love the performances of Frank Morgan (as the Wizard and several other roles) and the great Bert Lahr. Line that has made it into our everyday lives: "I do believe in spooks."
4 & 5. The Godfather and The Godfather 2
Brooding, operatic, simultaneously frightening and seductive, these two films are probably the greatest gangster movies ever made.
6. Children of Paradise
Marcel Carne's 1944 film had to be made in two sections because the occupying Germans would not permit a three-hour movie. A backstage love story set in 1840s Paris, it features Jean-Louis Barrault as a mime in love with a beautiful woman. I first saw this film as a teenager and was mesmerized by its poetic beauty.
In her New Yorker capsule, my old buddy Pauline Kael refers to the female star as "the incomparable Arletty," a description that always colours my view of her delicate performance.
7. The Maltese Falcon
An absolutely perfectly cast film -- every character matches your mind's-eye view in Dashiell Hammett's detective film.
More tough Bogart, this time with more gristle: his scenes with Mary Astor as the woman who relies too much on her sex appeal are hilarious examples of the best of tough-guy cinema.
8. The Three Colors Trilogy
Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red, White and Blue movies are not only beautiful to look at, they combine an elusive European story-telling and a climax that is strangely moving.
9. Annie Hall
Woody Allen at his best in this fictionalized account of his life with Diane Keaton. Very funny.
Among the great lines is the moment when Keaton parks her car and Allen says, "I can walk to the curb from here."
10. Rear Window
A multi-layered Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece that wins the Top 10 nod over Vertigo mainly for the visual choreography of the scenes where Jimmy Stewart looks out at the apartment across the way and sees the bustle of activity in every window.
11. On The Waterfront
The best of the gritty 1950s realism school, shot right on the streets, with a stirring social message and with Marlon Brando, who coulda been a contenda.
12. Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder looks at Hollywood in this gothic evisceration of the movies, ambition and many other things. Great performances, great lines: "I'm still big. It was the pictures that got small."
13. City Lights
This is the one with the blind flower girl. Chaplin vacillates between maudlin and hilarious, but the power of his message is undeniable and some of the physical bits are sheer movie genius.
14. Taxi Driver
Robert DeNiro found the sickness in the American soul. You talkin' to him?
15. Raging Bull
The best boxing movie of all time. DeNiro's transformation is amazing.
16. The General
Buster Keaton steals a locomotive during the Civil War. Keaton had an easy physical genius that made his comedy into a straight-faced grace that is beyond joyful.
Another Kurosawa masterwork that has given its name to the elusive nature of truth. Toshiro Mifune is a bandit who robs a group of travellers; their stories all differ according to their viewpoints. It's also about the visual power of cinema, a lesson borrowed for many other movies.
19. All About Eve
Bette Davis at her best as the ambitious actress who sees her younger self moving in for the kill. George Sanders defines suave evil.
20. Dead of Night
One of the most frightening movies ever, a compilation film in which people in a dark house tell horror stories. Michael Redgrave plays the ventriloquist who is taken over by his dummy, one of those horror plotlines that always scares me.
21. The Big Sleep
Bogie and Bacall and Raymond Chandler. This one sort of stands for all the Bogie-Bacalls.
22. Night of the Living Dead
George Romero's low-budget horror movie about the dead rising to eat the living. No production values, but when my wife and I saw it for the first time (in the same College Street theatre where I first saw Citizen Kane, as a matter of fact), we ran home and hid under the covers.
23. Wages of Fear
Henri-George Clouzot's film was also sold to me by Pauline Kael ("an existential thriller -- the most original and shocking French melodrama of the '50s.") It's about men who drive trucks loaded with nitroglycerine over bumpy roads. I finally got a chance to see it one night in 1970 when it was on late-night TV, but it was interrupted by the announcement that Pierre Laporte had just been killed by Quebec terrorists. It was years before I finally got to enjoy both the film and its amazing ending.
Hitchcock's mobius strip of a movie about obsession that folds back in on itself. Brilliant.
25. Singin' in the Rain
A great musical about the dawn of talking pictures. Besides Gene Kelly's famous dance, I loved Jean Hagen's actress with the crude voice. Stuck into an unwieldy wig for her period costume, she's told everyone used to wear them. "Then everyone's a dope," she says.
26. A Night at the Opera
The Marx Brothers movie with the unforgettable stateroom scene. The boys haven't aged that well, but they once made me laugh out loud.
27. Dr. Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick at his darkest. Funny, frightening and a showcase for Peter Sellers.
One of the great modern noirs with a black secret at his heart and a mythic explanation for the world's mysteries: "It's Chinatown."
The first film I ever reviewed, back in the 1970s when I was a city hall reporter in Brampton, Ont. The first summer blockbuster, and it frightened us to pieces.
30. Star Wars
A flight of special effects and imagination.
31. Schindler's List
A gruelling trip to an emotional release.
32. A Streetcar Named Desire
Brando as animal force and Vivien Leigh as dreamy idealism. A T-shirted masterpiece. Lines we still use: "Stella!"
33. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Greed, gold and Walter Huston. Lines we don't get to say often enough: "Badges? We don't need no stinkin badges."
34. The Third Man
For the theme song and the unblinking picture of the post-war world, and for Orson Welles, lurking in the doorway.
35. Sullivan's Travels
Preston Sturges, one of Hollywood's true originals, deserves a list of his own. This film is a knowing spoof of the movie business in which Joel McCrea plays a director who sets off as a tramp to find the real America.
36. Lost in America
Albert Brooks' version of Sullivan's Travels, about a yuppie couple who give it all up to see the world and get as far as Las Vegas. Not many people love this movie as much as I do, but Brooks' take on the lost "nest egg" haunts me still.
37. Five Easy Pieces
It's about family and talent and ambition, but we all remember Jack Nicholson ordering a chicken sandwich.
38. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Jack again, finding sanity in madness. Is there a better actor in American film?
39. The Hustler
I saw this one at the height of my own pool hall days. A wonderful, gritty movie, the Raging Bull of billiards.
40. High Noon
Because it took place in real time, had a memorable theme song and taught social responsibility.
41. The Ox-Bow Incident
Another allegory of mob rule, about three innocent men who are lynched. I cried when I saw this on TV as a boy; it was the decency of Henry Fonda, who tried to placate the mob.
The Antonioni movie seems out of date and pretentious today, but it perfectly captured the spirit of 1960 swinging London.
The quintessential stranger-rides-in-to-help-the-farmers movie. I always watch to see how they made tiny Alan Ladd look the same size as the other actors.
44. Midnight Cowboy
More grit, this time on the streets of New York City. Dustin Hoffman's, "Hey, I'm walkin' here," is the memorable line, but everyone forgets the part when hick Jon Voight asks a know-all New Yorker where the Statue of Liberty is. "It's over in Central Park, taking a piss," she replies.
45. Red River
John Wayne acts.
46. Blue Velvet
A riveting and surreal shocker/metaphor for the horrors under ordinary lives, from David Lynch with a special assist from Dennis Hopper.
A Western tone poem to amorality in which Patricia Neal demonstrates the sexual appeal of wind-blown, seen-it-all wisdom.
John Patrick Shanley's script makes this a romance of transcendent magic.
49. Some Like It Hot
I'm not a big fan of the humour of cross-dressing, but Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are still funny and Marilyn Monroe was never lusher.
Especially Joe Pesci's performance.
The Robert Altman sprawl, this time covering the Korean War, although it told us as much about Vietnam. Love that overlapping dialogue.
52. The Player
Altman's hilariously dark view of Hollywood that actually takes screenwriters seriously.
53. Atlantic City
An old-fashioned film made new again by Louis Malle, Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon, with an assist to a lemon.
Tod Browning's classic backstage horror film, set in a circus. Those were real sideshow performers and the final, lurid chase scene is a memorable moment of movie terror.
55. Living In Oblivion
A backstage comedy set in the world of independent film. It's one of the best inside-movie films ever made. Best moment: when a dwarf actor asks director Steve Buscemi why his character has to be a dwarf.
For the way they talked and the pregnant heroine and William H. Macy.
57. The Thin Man
William Powell and Myrna Loy drink from morn to night and solve crimes. A dipsomaniacal view of New York in the '30s.
58. The Graduate
Innocent is flung into a phony world. Because of Dustin Hoffman's hangdog debut and Anne Bancroft's timeless seduction. Line we remember: "Plastics."
59 & 60. The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven
Kurosawa again, and Mifune, in the story of a group of fighters for hire protecting a village of peasants. Remade as The Magnificent Seven, with Yul Brynner as a cowboy, which was almost as good and had the great theme music.
61. Easy Rider
The movie that changed Hollywood -- not for the first or last time -- and established independent, hippie, druggy irresponsibility as a legitimate subject. Great breakthrough perf by Jack Nicholson.
62. Everyone Says I Love You
The Woody Allen musical that ends in Paris on New Year's Eve with a bunch of Groucho imitators singing Horray for Captain Spalding in French. I don't think I've ever been more delighted in a movie theatre.
63 & 64. The Front Page and His Girl Friday
Two versions of the classic newspaper comedy, with madcap fast-paced dialogue that works when the reporter is a man (in the 1941 version) or a woman (Rosalind Russell in the 1940 edition.)
A darkly frightening journey into the heart of the Ozarks. Dialogue that we hope never makes it into our everyday lives: "Squeal like a pig."
66. Richard III
Ian McKellen is magnificent in this remake of the Shakespeare play that places the story in Nazi Germany.
67. Shakespeare In Love
Smart, funny, sexy and you even learn something about Shakespeare. Tom Stoppard rules.
68. Bonnie and Clyde
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway make bank robbery sexy. It combined amorality, sex and ultraviolence in a particularly 1960s way.
69. The Manchurian Candidate
Richard Condon's slyly paranoid view of America that neatly eviscerates Joe McCarthy and provides Angela Lansbury with one of the great bad mother roles of all time.
One of the most frightening vampire movies, a silent made in 1922 by F.W. Murneau and starring Max Schreck, all ears and nose, as the rat-faced undead one.
71. The Sunshine Boys
Walter Matthau and George Burns spar in Neil Simon's very funny, if overlong, story of feuding vaudevillians. It's here mostly because it provides one of the most enduring lines in our everyday lives: "Did you hear from the potato chips?"
72. Tom Jones
Henry Fielding unchained and the first of the sexy meal scenes.
The first movie with the second shock ending (not counting Wait Until Dark, which had its second shock ending in the middle.) People in the movie theatre were so surprised that some of them actually leapt to their feet in fright.
74. 2001, A Space Odyssey
Hard to watch today, but a breakthrough and one of the great movies for teenagers who were abusing illegal substances, or so I'm told. Memorable line: the Blue Danube Waltz.
75. Rebel Without A Cause
James Dean in despair and his father in an apron.
76. The Sweet Smell of Success
The only Manhattan gossip columnist movie, with Bert Lancaster as the evil J.J. Hudsucker and Tony Curtis as his gofer. Another dark view of American celebrity.
77. The Shawshank Redemption
A feel-good prison movie that builds beautifully to an exceptionally satisfying flourish.
78. The Dead
John Huston's last picture, based on the James Joyce work,is an amazing evocation of the short story form, perhaps the best ever put on film.
79. Bull Durham
The baseball movie reinvented, with a memorable mound conference that turns into a discussion of wedding gifts.
80. Peter Pan
The Little Mermaid was more tuneful and Aladdin was funnier, but this was the Disney movie that first captured me.
An amazing Yugoslavian movie that tells the country's history in a great metaphor. A group of people is locked in a basement for years, fooled into thinking a war is still on.
82. Funny Face
This one stands for any one of a number of great Fred Astaire movies. His dancing, his singing, his way of wearing clothes, they were all wonderful to watch. This one has the advantage of co-starring Audrey Hepburn, the classiest of the leading ladies. The theme song always evokes an old John O'Hara story called Your Fah Neeah Neeface, a play on Astaire's phrasing, that I find delightful.
83. The Spanish Prisoner
A formalized mystery from David Mamet that I had to see twice: once to be fooled and the second time to see how.
84. A Bedtime Story
A lightweight comedy with David Niven and Marlon Brando as con men, later remade into the superior Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. But the original was an enormous favourite of my brother and me, who used to wait for the part when Brando, playing an idiot, would crouch in a dungeon and croak, "Mother?"
Atom Egoyan's very artsy movie about a man haunted by memories of his dead daughter. The movie's non-surprise surprise ending was so shocking that I could barely speak my amazement after seeing it.
86. The English Patient
Intelligent melodrama. Line that has moved into our lives: "It's a very plum plum."
87. The Longest Yard
A prison movie (my secret passion) populated by a great cast of characters.
88. Field of Dreams
A father and son get together over baseball. The myth of the game infuses the movie with sweet nostalgia, and Burt Lancaster is wonderful as an ex-player.
89. Young Frankenstein
Mel Brooks when he was funny, including the greatest version of Putting on the Ritz ever filmed.
90. The Deer Hunter
The horror of Vietnam with the brilliant Russian roulette sequence.
91. A Christmas Carol
The Alastair Sim version, and especially for the scene when he walks into his nephew's house to the tune of Barbara Allen.
92. The Grapes of Wrath
Line we wish we could use: "Whenever a cop is beatin up a guy, I'll be there."
93. Double Indemnity
Great, dark, Billy Wilder suspense.
94. Apocalypse Now
For the scope, and the hallucinogenic tone, and the smell of napalm in the morning.
95. It's A Wonderful Life
Christmas sentiment, but I must admit I always watch the final 15 minutes or so, just for the sentiment.
96. The Tenant
A Roman Polanski movie about an apartment that is haunted by its previous owner. When our hero jumps out of the window, lives, crawls back upstairs and jumps out again, it was so gruesome we laughed at the audacity of the overkill, so to speak. It's a movie I think about every time I change residences.
97. The Guns of Navarone
I just loved this one when I was a kid: Allied guerrillas take on a big Nazi gun emplacement. Lots of swell shooting.
98. The Little Kidnappers
The 1953 version only. Two orphan boys living with their stern grandfather, who won't let them have a dog, kidnap a baby (called a bah-bee in their wonderful Scots accent.) I cried buckets. Lines we use frequently: The grandfather's declaration, "There'll be no books with pictures in this hoos."
99. Robin and the Seven Hoods
100. That Scottish short where the guy plays the bagpipes at night.