Favorite Movies

Over the past fifteen to twenty years I’ve been haphazardly keeping a list of my favorite movies, and within the last year I put it all together into a list I keep on an Excel spreadsheet.  I’ve decided to put the list in my blog, not because I’m trying to show off, but because I believe writers can learn several things from movies, especially good movies.  That being said, any list of favorite movies is necessarily prepared with considerable amount of opinion or, if you will, personal preference.  These are the movies I like, many of them I’ve liked for a long time.  Those of you who scan this list won’t find all your favorites here, though you may find one or two.

The movies are listed in order of the year of release.  I will say I have one favorite above all the others (see below), but I’m not going to take the time to list the rest of them in order of how much I “like” them.  Also, giving the date of release distinguishes two movies of the same name.  (For example, Mutiny on the Bounty of 1962 instead of the movie of 1935, or The Bounty of 1984.)  This list isn’t necessarily complete; I certainly will add others if I feel they deserve it.

A.  The Main List

1939     The Wizard of Oz
1942     Casablanca
1943     The Song of Bernadette
1946     Song of the South
1948     Fort Apache
1949     Treasure Island
1949     Twelve O’Clock High
1950     King Solomon’s Mines
1951     Quo Vadis
1952     The Greatest Show on Earth
1952     High Noon
1952     The Quiet Man
1952     The Robe
1953     Julius Caesar
1954     20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
1954     The Caine Mutiny
1954     The High and The Mighty
1955     Mr. Roberts
1955     The Seven Year Itch
1955     Strategic Air Command
1955     To Catch a Thief
1956     Around the World in Eighty Days
1956     Moby Dick
1956     The Ten Commandments
1957     The Bridge on the River Kwai
1957     Paths of Glory
1958     South Pacific
1959     Anatomy of a Murder
1959     Ben-Hur
1959     North by Northwest
1959     On the Beach
1959     Operation Petticoat
1959     Porgy and Bess
1960     The Apartment
1960     The Magnificent Seven
1960     Psycho
1960     Sink the Bismark
1960     Spartacus
1960     West Side Story
1961     The Absent-Minded Professor
1961     The Guns of Navarone
1962     Lawrence of Arabia
1962     The Music Man
1962     Mutiny on the Bounty
1963     Captain Newman, M.D.
1963     Charade
1963     Lillies of the Field
1964     Becket
1964     Dr. Strangelove
1964     Mary Poppins
1964     My Fair Lady
1965     A Thousand Clowns
1965     Dr. Zhivago
1965     In Harm’s Way
1965     The Sound of Music
1966     A Man for All Seasons
1967     In the Heat of the Night
1968     2001: A Space Odyssey
1968     The Lion in Winter
1968     Rosemary’s Baby
1969     The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
1970     Airport
1970     Patton
1971     Fiddler on the Roof
1975     Jaws
1976     All the President’s Men
1977     Close Encounters of the Third Kind
1977     Star Wars – A New Hope
1980     9 to 5
1980     Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back
1980     Tom Horn
1981     Raiders of the Lost Ark
1982     Gandhi
1983     Star Wars – Return of the Jedi
1984     Amadeus
1986     Hoosiers
1988     Mississippi Burning
1989     Dead Poet’s Society
1990     Dances With Wolves
1990     The Hunt for Red October
1991     Silence of the Lambs
1991     Thelma and Louise
1992     Hero
1993     Cool Runnings
1993     Dave
1993     Schindler’s List
1996     Fargo
2001     A Beautiful Mind
2010     The King’s Speech

B.  Disney Animated Films

1937     Snow White
1940     Fantasia
1940     Pinocchio
1942     Bambi
1949     The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
1950     Cinderella
1951     Alice in Wonderland
1953     Peter Pan
1955     Lady and the Tramp
1959     Sleeping Beauty
1961     One Hundred and One Dalmatians
1963     The Sword in the Stone
1977     The Rescuers
1990     The Rescuers Down Under

With a list like that, there’s a tendency to wonder what the list can tell us.  It should be borne in mind that the fact that this is a “favorite” list limits any message we can glean from it, but there are several things that stand out.  (This is not a list of my “best” movies, it’s my favorites.)  First, movies have to be written.  Like a novel they have plot, characters and setting, and a movie can be compared to a fast-paced novel.  Everything in the movie has to be important.  Anything that doesn’t need to be there detracts from the overall experience.

Second, and probably most important, each of the movies on my list has a story to tell and in every one of them, the plot is pressed forward all the time.  Including the cartoons.  Nothing in these movies slows or bogs down the story line.  It keeps going, sweeping the viewer along with it.  I noticed this most particularly in 1957’s The Paths of Glory which I saw for the first time only a few weeks ago.  (I’m writing this on 2/1/2013.)  Everything in that movie pushes inexorably forward; there’s no wasted effort in the script.

Third, there’s little or no gratuitous violence.  No Schwarzenegger movies here.  The Terminator is one of the worst movies ever made because it allows Arnold to go around shooting and killing indiscriminately.  And he’s proud of it.  (I find that appalling.)  It glorifies murder under the mistaken assumption that because his character has come back from the future, he can somehow justify blowing people away.  There is violence in the movies on my  list, certainly.  I admit it.  Many of the movies are war movies, but the violence is always central to the plot and doesn’t get in the way of the story.  No blowing people away just to make a movie that appeals to viewer’s violent sides.

Fourth, there’s a variety of moods in these movies.  They’re not all full of conflict or tension.  Contrary to what some people say, every scene doesn’t have to drip tension or conflict to hold the viewer’s attention.  What’s far more important is a variation in the amount of tension from scene to scene.  Fort Apache, for example, has scenes of the Cavalry chasing Apache indians, even scenes of Cavalry men getting massacred, but it’s interspersed with scenes of humor and relaxation.

I have no documentaries here.  I’m not sure why.  Sorry, Al.

That being said, what can we say about a movie that makes it great?  That is, in an absolute sense.  Like most artistic endeavors, a determination of “goodness” or “greatness” is overwhelmingly subjective.  What one person thinks is good, another may dislike considerably.  For a movie to be great, many things have to fall in line.  The starting point for a movie is the script.  But acting, too, has to be excellent.  Then there are so many other things that have to fall into place: film editing, sound and sound effects, lighting, directing, you name it.  Music is tremendously helpful in elevating the mood of the film.  The music in Lawrence of Arabia is a good example.  Without it, the broad, expansive scenery might just turn out to be just any other desert.

In short, it takes a team to make a movie, good or bad.  That’s so much different than writing a book.  A novel is the work of one, rarely two, individuals.

Some movies didn’t make the list.  Some Like it Hot just didn’t do it for me even though it’s a top-rated movie.  I liked the trains in the movie, but seeing men dressed as women turned me off.  There’s only one Marilyn Monroe movie here, The Seven-Year Itch.  I’ve never been terribly impressed with Monroe, though this movie is her best.  Also, notice Dumbo is not on the animated movies list.

Additionally, there are few movies with serious special effects, such as the second trio of Star Wars movies.  They were good and I enjoyed watching them, but I felt the special effects were there largely to provide the characters with a difficult situation to get out of.  The first three Star Wars movies were better.  More interpersonal relationships.  The first Star Wars movie (now called “A New Hope”) came out in 1977, before computer-generated special effects were developed.  Special effects are also a large part of why I have few recent movies.  Movies do special effects well, perhaps better than a novel, but too much reliance on technology simply destroys the plot line.

Some movies didn’t make the list.  The movie The Searchers is not here.  Every listing I’ve seen that includes that movie gives it a four or five-star rating, depending on how many stars they have to give out.  It’s considered one of the best westerns ever made.  But I hated it.  I thought it was poorly acted, poorly directed, poorly written, and the basic premise was weak to begin with.  Not to mention promoting the stereotypical view of Native Americans as bloodthirsty savages.  I wouldn’t put The Searchers on my list if you paid me two trillion dollars.  Fort Apache is a far better western.  But that’s me.

I said one movie remains my all-time favorite.  That’s Lawrence of Arabia.  I’m not going to rate the others; that would take too much time and wouldn’t be worth it anyway.  What would it tell me?

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  1. #1 by wendy on February 2, 2013 - 7:31 PM

    We have so many in common I can’t list them all. Don’t know why but I was surprised to see Rosemary’s Baby on your list .. . but it’s a favorite of mine, too.

    • #2 by rogerfloyd on February 3, 2013 - 5:25 PM

      Wendy, I think the reason I liked Rosemary’s Baby, other than the fact that it was well-done and imaginative, was that it was such an unusual movie. It doesn’t fit into any of the usual categories. I guess ‘supernatural’ could be the best term to describe it.

  2. #3 by toesinthedirt on April 4, 2017 - 12:49 AM

    Have you seen “Paterson”?

    • #4 by rogerfloyd on April 8, 2017 - 3:08 PM

      I haven’t seen “Paterson.” What’s it about?

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