Here’s a new parlor game you can play with your movie-minded friends before you read the survey printed below. Ask your companions to list their five favorite films. Then compare each other’s choices, and then compare them to the films selected below. See how many different choices there are and marvel at how few are chosen by more than one person.
Genesis asked film festival organizers and film critics to submit their short list of favorite films, along with a film they felt was most worth watching more than once. We were not surprised to find that for some film buffs five was an impossible limit. But we were surprised at the wide range of choices. Instead of a handful of films dominating the lists, we discovered only a handful that got mentioned on more than one list.
The movies — another art form that thrives in the eye of the beholder.
Bill Lockwood, special programming director at McCarter Theater, and curator of the Second Chance Cinema series presented by the Princeton Adult School.
I always resist picking the “best “ of anything, and with films (or with favorite music) it would be especially difficult in the light of more than 50 years of movie programming and writing. So you will forgive (and indulge) me if I have included more than five titles. I have not included titles that have acquired an iconic status, to the point where they occupy a masterwork pantheon of their own, like The Godfather (Parts I & 2 only), Apocalypse Now, Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, Altman’s Nashville, and The Wizard of Oz. But not The Sound of Music.
Empire of the Sun (1987). Spielberg’s best film up to Saving Private Ryan, which also introduced the very young Christian Bale (and made John Malkovich a star), largely overlooked these days in the light of Spielberg’s subsequent achievements like ET and started his fascination (obsession?) with cinema-as-history.
Henry V (1944). Olivier’s version made on a shoestring as a national morale/celebratory booster for Britain’s ego after World War II (Branagh’s big budget version is fine, but there was only one Olivier).
A Clockwork Orange (1971). Kubrick’s masterpiece, as timely and disturbing today as ever.
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001). A Jules & Jim for our time, if not necessarily our country. Two guys, a girl, and a beach — what more do you need?
Return of the Secaucus Seven (1979). One of the first (and still one of the best) independent features, perfectly captures the mood and mores of a generation, a time, and a place. Established John Sayles as the underrated writer/director he has always been.
Shane (1953). Along with The Searchers (quintessential John Wayne), the best western ever made. Honorable mention: The Wild Bunch (William Holden in his prime).
The Band Wagon (1953). Still the best musical to ever come out of Hollywood, Fred Astaire even better than all his films with Ginger Rodgers (and Cyd Charisse no slouch either). Honorable mention: Singing in the Rain (but Gene Kelly was no Astaire) and Scorsese’s The Last Waltz (no better concert film ever shot — where is Robby Robertson today when we need him?).
The Last Picture Show (1971). A slice of Trump’s small town Texas (Anarene) c.1950s via Peter Bogdanovich, who never topped himself after this amazing debut. Who needed technicolor? In the right hands, black & white works (as the ’40s and Hitchcock taught us). Almost a documentary of a time and place. And who can forget Sam the Lion and Cloris Leachman?
Point of Order (1964). Army-McCarthy hearings, a slice of history if you’re old enough to remember, which kept the nation glued to its b&w TV sets for days, with the original demagogue villain (prior to Donald Trump), hero Joseph Welch, and even Roy Cohn (worst supporting role until Angels in America); best feature length doc prior to the arrival of Frederic Wiseman and Michael Moore.
La Dolce Vita (1960) and The Great Beauty (2013). Two ages of Rome, always the Eternal City, yesterday and today and my favorite place on earth; one by Fellini and the other by Sorrentino.
Blow Up (1966). Quintessential Antonioni, in the mind’s eye or not, now you see it, now you don’t. Introducing Vanessa Redgrave in the process.
Chinatown (1974). Come back Roman Polanski and make movies for us again, like this best-of-all whodunits (and best Jack Nicholson, including The Shining).
The Lady Vanishes (1938). Before Hollywood and color, Hitchcock was already the master of mysteries in black & white. Starring Margaret Lockwood (no relation, alas). Talk about handwriting on the wall (or in this case, on the window of a train). In Strangers on a Train (1951), Hitch did it again.
Will Howarth, professor of English emeritus at Princeton University and former editor-in-chief of “The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau,” teaches a freshman seminar on “noir films.”
The list below was prompted by a student who asked Howarth about his favorite films. “I left out the films in my noir course, which are also favorites,” Howarth says. “I grew up in mid-America at mid-century, and my movie house was a second-run place that featured double features and lots of B crime pictures, hence my affection for noir.”
Musical: Singing in the Rain (1952), An American in Paris (1951).
Sci-Fi: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Back to the Future (1985).
Drama: Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Best Years of our Lives (1946).
Drama about Music: Once (2007), Looking for an Echo (2000).
Comedy: Some Like it Hot (1959), The Graduate (1967), Cold Comfort Farm (1995).
Western: Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), The Searchers (1956).
Animation: Fantasia (1940).
Romance: Roman Holiday (1953), The Quiet Man (1952).
Teens: Rebel without a Cause (1955).
Small Towns: Picnic (1955).
Big Towns: Sweet Smell of Success (1957).
Thriller: The Night of the Hunter (1955).
D. F. (Doug) Whipple, founder and director, New Hope Film Festival www.newhopefilmfestival.com. The 2016 festival runs July 22 to July 31.
Being There (1979). This is one of the most influential films of my life. My younger brother and I were already fans of Peter Sellers because of the Pink Panther series. I remember feeling awestruck by the droll yet sublime satire. Although I was only 14 at the time, the film was penetrating and weird enough to leave an indelible impression.
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). This film deeply moved me. I had always imagined people of the World War I era running off to war with blind, naive optimism and jingoism. But there is more depth in this film and no film since has equally conveyed the disillusionment and waste that accompanies war.
Lincoln (2012). Steven Spielberg brought 19th century Washington to life in this independent-spirited film, which is no surprise because Spielberg is one of America’s great storytellers. Spielberg earned extra credit for gaining wide theatrical release in a tough environment.
Blade Runner (1982). Ridley Scott’s visionary sci-fi fantasy entranced me when I first experienced the film at 17. I entered the theater expecting entertainment and little more, then found myself suddenly touched by this doomed android who’s capable of complex, humanlike feelings about his mortality. Scott’s visual sophistication — something I’ve also noticed in works such as The Duellists — stayed with me over the years. Although I’ve watched Blade Runner several times since and always find it mysterious, this film must be experienced in a theater to appreciate its sweeping grandness.
Fitzcarraldo (1982). Fitzcarraldo originally sparked my lifelong interest in art house films. The film carried me away to an exotic place at a time when I was ready for a change in life, introducing to me the power that dwells within an inexpensive movie ticket. Even more so, I was stuck by Fitzgerald’s puzzling, borderline-mad obsession. Maybe I could relate. One has to have a little Fitzgerald in him to start a film festival and remain in the movie business.
John Toner, executive director, the Princeton Garden Theater, 160 Nassau Street, Princeton. http://princetongardentheatre.org.
The Lady Eve (1941). Preston Sturges, director; starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. This is officially my favorite film. A screwball comedy by the under-appreciated master of the form, Preston Sturges. A delightful battle of the sexes in which Stanwyck seeks revenge of the heart. It’s flawlessly written, directed, and acted.
Double Indemnity (1944). Billy Wilder, director; starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. The quintessential film noir, based on the pulp novel by James M. Cain in which an adulterous couple seeks to kill the woman’s husband to cash in on his life insurance. Not the first noir, but the one that set the standard. (And, yes, Barbara Stanwyck is incredible, again.)
Steamboat Bill, Jr (1928). Directed by Charles Reisner and Buster Keaton; starring Buster Keaton. Keaton is extraordinary in this silent film about a dandified Eastern boy who travels west to meet his dad, a rough and tumble steamboat captain. Keaton was never better and his acrobatic gags and pratfalls are Olympic quality. Very funny, but also beautiful in a surreal, dreamlike way.
Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974). Directed by Jacques Rivette; starring Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier. This is the film that changed my life. After I saw it at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, I started a film society, which ultimately led to running four movie theaters. It’s French New Wave meets Alice in Wonderland as the contemporary Celine and Julie find themselves inside a Henry James drama. Or something. A magical film about the nature of film and narrative.
Dr. Strangelove (1964). Directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Peter Sellers. A very black political satire about how a comedy of mistakes threatens to trigger a nuclear war. Sellers is awesome playing three different roles, including the unforgettable Strangelove. This is Kubrick’s best film for my money. Funny, but with a terrifying aftertaste.
Kam Williams, nationally syndicated film critic and longtime reviewer for Town Topics in Princeton.
The Wizard of Oz (1939). Not only because seeing it once a year on TV is such a cherished childhood memory, but because so many movies make allusions to it by borrowing lines from it, like “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” “If I only had a heart,” and “Follow the yellow brick road.”
Life Is Beautiful (1997). Because I cried driving all the way home from Philly and didn’t stop until I finished writing the review.
I Am Sam (2001). Because I cried all through the film
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). Pound-for-pound, the funniest film ever.
Blazing Saddles (1974). So groundbreaking that I watched it four times in a row when it opened.
Joyce J. Persico, former film critic for the Times of Trenton, 1972 to 2007.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994). This impeccably acted and directed adaptation of a Stephen King novella holds a new revelation for me at every viewing. Morgan Freeman’s narration is spellbinding. Tim Robbins’ understated performance is crucial to the drama’s enduring quality.
Goodfellas (1990). Arguably the best example of director Martin Scorsese’s ability to blend violence and authentic Italian-American culture in a rich cinematic stew. It’s a good time covered in blood.
Chinatown (1974). Greed, deviant sex, corruption — you name it and it saturates Roman Polanski’s dramatic and absorbing exploration of the 1937 Los Angeles water wars. You have to be pretty jaded not to gasp at the ending.
Seven Beauties (1975). Unforgettable drama focused on Giancarlo Giannini’s passionate performance as a man who will do anything to survive the Nazis in World War II. Director Lina Wertmuller spares no explicitness in depicting the depravities of war in a film that bounces from comic absurdity to drama.
Psycho (1960). It still scares me.
Worth A Second Look: The Pledge (2001). Directed by Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson as a recently retired police detective who decides to track down a child killer on his own, this quiet character study never got the audience it deserved. Without any phony dramatics or explicit violence, it has a strange allure. How far should the man go to catch his prey?
Chuck Rose, executive director, Arthouse Film Festival, 310 Fisk Avenue, Brielle. www.arthousefilmfestival.com
The Shawshank Redemption, (1994). This is an immaculately rendered story about the power of friendship and redemption in which the setting plays as important a character as any of the actors. Everyone on both sides of the camera did their absolutely best work ever. For me, it was also special because I was honored to show it for the first time in a movie theater, to my audience in Arthouse Film Festival, a world premiere, right here in New Jersey! No one in the audience was prepared for such an amazing experience, and I think they all must cherish it as much I do. To top it off, I had the director, Frank Darabont, join us right there for discussion and Q&A after the screening. An unforgettable experience!
Schindler’s List (1993). For me another amazing world premiere! When the film was completed, Universal Pictures didn’t know what they had. They had given Spielberg the money to make the film because they wanted to insure that he would make a sequel to Jurassic Park. When it was done, there was no big release plan. I asked the right executive at the right moment if I could screen it first. Amazingly, I got it. Again, my audience at Arthouse Film Festival had no idea (nor did I) how mind-blowing and life-changing this film was. After it made a fortune and won seven Oscars, Universal figured out what they had. No, I didn’t get Spielberg to come to New Jersey for a Q&A, but I got to speak to most of the principals who made the film with him and won their share of Oscars.
Napoleon (1927). I wasn’t alive when it was first released, but I was lucky enough to snag a ticket in 1981 when a four-hour version painstakingly reconstructed by Kevin Brownlow was presented at Radio City Music Hall. It’s a black and white silent film that ends with an astonishing sequence in which three projectors are employed as a triptych, three giant images splayed across the screen and beyond. At the climax, director Abel Gance tints one image red, another blue to create the French tricolor. Napoleon, on horseback, gallops across all three projectors, and the crowd goes wild! The entire spectacle was magnificently elevated by Carmine Coppola, who wrote a special score (commissioned by his son, Francis) and conducted it with a live 60-piece orchestra right in the theater! I have never experienced anything like it.
Star Wars (1977). Another surreal experience. I was a film student at USC. Often, the studios would summon us to come and see a movie. This time, it was a film made by a USC alumnus by the name of George Lucas. I sat next to comedian Pat Paulsen in the fantastic sound-mixing theater at 20th Century Fox. We were surrounded by many celebrities and industry big shots with an air of “you can’t impress me, I’ve seen it all before.” The movie played, and the world was changed. The big shots were like giddy children. George Lucas came out to answer questions, but all anyone could say was how great it was!
Throne of Blood (1957). I saw this in high school English class in the 1970s, projected from a clattering 16 mm projector. We were studying Shakespeare. I was miserable because the language was just too dense for me. We were told that this film was an adaptation of Macbeth by the great Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. Great, I’ll take a nap. But then the film played, and I was mesmerized. Not only did Shakespeare come alive, but I learned the power of visual storytelling. Toshiro Mifune’s insane performance grabbed me by the throat. I became a great fan of his, and Kurosawa, and Shakespeare, and movies.
Susan Conlon, head of youth services, Princeton Public Library, and director of the Princeton Environmental Film Festival (April 2-10) and the Princeton Student Film and Video Festival (July 20 and 21). www.princetonlibrary.org.
The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II (1972 and 1974). Francis Ford Coppola. My first and second place films are a tie. These films at once reveal the intimacy of family life and loyalties and the brutality of a larger and changing American life. I think the second film is especially beautifully constructed, spanning young Vito’s early life to Michael’s diminishing control. Brando, DeNiro, and especially Pacino are at their best. I watched both films many times and have had notable arguments about Michael Corleone — is he a monster or a good man who lost his soul?
The Untouchables (1987). Brian De Palma’s Prohibition-era tale of justice, crime, and punishment. Terrific cast, cinematography, unforgettable music score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, and one of my favorite movie lines of all time: “Where’s Nitti?” Andy Garcia’s George Stone asks Eliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner. He replies “He’s in the car.” I don’t want to spoil how he got there.
The Lives of Others (2006). Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film is set in 1984 in East Berlin. It is a dark, deep, and moving chronicle of oppression. I always recommend this film to everyone.
Dazed and Confused (1993). For something lighter and brighter, I chose this film. Director Richard Linklater takes us on a day-in-the-life trip to the last day of school in a small Texas town in 1976. The final moments of the film are one of my favorite endings of any film. The songs selected for the soundtrack perfectly fit the 1970s scene and the film can be enjoyed on many levels, including noting future stars like Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, and of course, Matthew McConnaghay’s Wooderson, strangely both out of place and right where he likely will always be: “All right, all right, all right.”
Albert G. Nigrin, executive director and curator, Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Program in Cinema Studies, Rutgers. www.alnigrin.com, www.njfilmfest.com.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). I saw Kubrick’s 2001 when I was 10 years old. My parents took me to see it at the St. George Theater on Staten Island. The film was screened in the special 70mm Cinerama format so the screen was this very cool huge wide screen with a curve. I remember being haunted by the film for a long time and still remember my parents arguing on the way home what they thought the monolith was. I found the film fascinating and have since seen it over 100 times. It is a mainstay in a few of the Cinema Studies courses I teach at Rutgers. I never get tired of seeing it.
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). Maya Deren. I saw this one in Professor Alan Williams’ Cinema Studies class in 1982 when I was a graduate student and was transfixed by it. In fact, I am sure this film is the reason I became a filmmaker. The black and white 16 mm experimental psycho-dramatic short features Maya and her husband at the time, Alexander Hammid. It basically focuses on the sleeping woman’s dream that spills into reality. It is a silent film with a haunting soundtrack and we peer inside the mind of a beautiful young woman.
Mulholland Drive (2001). David Lynch obviously was influenced by Maya Deren’s Meshes. Both are dream films but this time we follow the dreams of a troubled young woman trying to make it as an actress in Hollywood. The first time I saw this film was at a 10 a.m. New York Film Festival press screening about a week after the World Trade Center Towers collapsed on 9/11.
I got the last seat in the front row of the Walter Reade Theater in New York and was not really sure what I was seeing. In fact, the opening minutes of the film made me feel pretty queasy. Maybe it was because I was still feeling bad post 9/11. What I do know is that I became completely fascinated when the film switches gears about two hours in. I really enjoy films like this that force the viewer to become like archaeologists forced to dig deep for meaning.
Un Chien Andalou (1929). Luis Bunuel/Salvador Dali. I first saw it in 1976 at a David Bowie concert at Madison Square Garden as a 17-year-old. Just prior to the concert a screen dropped down in front of the stage, and they projected this short surrealist classic. I had nightmares for weeks as the film features some pretty shocking and terrifying images. It is a mainstay in my Experimental Film Cinema Studies class, and I enjoy turning people on to this bizarre film.
The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982). Peter Greenaway. I first saw this film in the summer of 1983 on a rainy night at the Montgomery Cinema in Rocky Hill with my wife, Irene Fizer. Back then this cinema — which is now a multiplex — only had one screen and had a leaky roof. There was a bucket of water on the floor a few seats away and during the film water would drip into the bucket. Normally I would find this annoying but it fit the mood of the film perfectly where we follow a brash young draftsman hired to make 12 landscape illustrations at the estate of an aristocrat and his wife.
The arrangement includes a sexual liaison offered to the draughtsman by the wife while her estranged husband is away. But when the murdered body of her husband is discovered at the estate, mysterious clues in draughtsman’s drawings point to the identity of the killer.
Tom Sims, director, Cape May Film Festival, and film critic for Exit Zero Magazine, Cape May. http://newnjstatefilmfestival.com/ Festival November 11-13, 2016.
5. Yes Men Fix the World (2009). What’s that you say? Never heard of it? Gonzo journalists expose cover ups, corruption, and otherwise big corporate fraud using the best (and most hilarious) pranks ever.
4. Shawshank Redemption. This has to be on more than one critic’s choice list, right?
3. Toy Story Trilogy (1995, 1999, 2010). I know, I know. That means this is a Top 7. But not really. Toy Story represents the best trilogy Hollywood has ever offered. Look it up on Rotten Tomatoes, it got the highest composite score of any of them.
2. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Go ahead, call me sentimental. I cry every time when Mary whispers into George’s bad ear, “George Bailey, I’ll love you till the day I die.” I’m tearing up just from writing this.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). This is still my favorite book too. I’ve read the sequel, but I’ve dismissed it.
Honorable mentions: The Sixth Sense (1999). A masterpiece of suspense from Philadelphia area director M. Night Shyamalan.
Diane Raver, founder, the Garden State Film Festival. www.gsff.org.
1. Lawrence of Arabia (1967). One I watch over and over. To say David Lean was a master of the cinematic arts would be an understatement. From the performances of Peter O’Toole and the rest of the cast, the historic element and the cinematography it is a masterpiece.
2. Casablanca (1942). Another I never tire of, but then again who ever tires of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. And not to mention Paul Henreid and Claude Rains and the theme that honor prevails. What a concept in our society today!
3. Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (2000). Now this one is just pure fun. The music, the script, the acting — just the very best of the entertainment industry! And who ever tires of looking at George Clooney!
4. The Producers (1967). What can one say about Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in one of Mel Brooks’ most flawless films. Again pure entertainment for entertainments sake. Mel Brooks pokes fun at everyone equally!
5. Auntie Mame (1958). What a wonderful film about the woman I always wanted to be when I grew up, eccentric yet grounded. Pure joy!
#b#From a Young Screenwriter & Director#/b#
Damien Chazelle, screen writer and director of Whiplash, which won three Oscars in 2015, is a 2003 graduate of Princeton High School who graduated from Harvard in 2007. Chazelle co-wrote 10 Cloverfield Lane, released this year.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964). “The pinnacle of what movies can do: take everyday life and turn it into magic. It takes a moment to adjust to its rhythms in the beginning, but the movie reaches heights no other has ever reached.”
Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid, 1943). California the way I love it: black-and-white, hard light, a dream.
City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931). The greatest ending in movie history.
Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999). The other greatest ending in movie history: seeing this in a theater, the closing credits popping on so unexpectedly, opened my eyes to a whole other way of ending a movie.
Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu, 1949). Ozu is the kind of director who makes everyone else look fussy and distracted. His movies are as pure as music.
Movie worth watching several times or many times over: “I would again say The Umbrellas of Cherbourg because it’ll mean something different to you at each age you watch it. An additional title? Children of Paradise (Marcel Carne, 1945): like a great novel, endlessly entertaining and worth getting lost in.”