Thursday, September 20, 2012

FilmFan's List of Must-See Classic Films You Should Have Seen

I wrote the list below in 1998, after repeated pestering from a couple of American friends who got fed up with me saying "Have you seen so-and-so?" and them always saying "No". (Hence the slightly patronising tone). I will edit it at some point (I have no idea what I was on about with the asterisks - ignore those) but I'm posting it now because a few people on Twitter have asked me for a similar list and I want to be able to link to it.

Matthew (@FilmFan1971)

 A Lot Of Catching Up To Do: Matt's List of the Must-Sees You Haven't Seen. 

The Top 20. 

I hate the question "What's your favourite film?". Even "favourite films" is hard - the person who asks usually doesn't have a spare half-hour. However, for your benefit, I have narrowed it down to twenty, though if I stop to think about it for more than a second, I'll immediately start adding to it ("The Conversation", "The Hustler", "Heathers" etc.) See how difficult it is? Right. So, you'll notice that the first 14 films are all "classics" (all but "Vertigo" are in black and white), then "Play It Again, Sam" is my favourite Woody Allen movie, and the rest are my favourite '80s movies. "Miller's Crossing" is the only film from the 90's, because I assume you've seen most of the best '90s movies. Anyway, the 20 listed here are the Absolute, Cannot Go Wrong, All-Time Greatest, Watch Them Over and Over, Best Movies Ever. Included here are seven or eight of the Best Screenplays Ever Written, by which I mean that the dialogue itself is, quite simply, perfection. I've marked those with an asterisk (*). Here we go, then. And remember - you asked for it...

□ 1) Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock)
□ 2) Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder) *
□ 3) Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder) *
□ 4) Casablanca (Michael Curtiz) *
□ 5) Murder My Sweet aka Farewell My Lovely (Edward Dmytryk)
□ 6) 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet)
□ 7) It's A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra)
□ 8) Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges) *
□ 9) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel)
□ 10) The Third Man (Carol Reed)
□ 11) His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks) *
□ 12) Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer) *
□ 13) Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick) *
□ 14) The Day The Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise)
□ 15) Play It Again, Sam (Herbert Ross) (but it's really a Woody Allen movie).
□ 16) This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner)
□ 17) The Sure Thing (Rob Reiner)
□ 18) Dangerous Liasions (Stephen Frears)
□ 19) Withnail &I (Bruce Robinson) *
□ 20) Miller's Crossing (Joel and Ethan Coen) *

Okay. That's The Big Twenty. (The check boxes are to encourage fanatical tendencies - there's no shame in having a 'Films To See' list, so you might as well go the whole hog and start ticking boxes. You'll be surprised at how satisfying it is...) The names to note above are: Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks and Frank Capra. These guys are the Grand Masters - you can't really go wrong with any of their movies, and you really should check out their whole filmographies. In the meantime though, there now follows A Really Big List Of Classics, broken down by decade, and in more or less alphabetical order. Ready? Here goes...


Don't underestimate the silents. Buster Keaton's films are as funny as any modern comedy. The films in brackets are not necessarily as enjoyable as the others, but are, nonetheless, essential viewing. (Also, I am now switching fonts, as otherwise I'll be here all night!)

□ The General (Buster Keaton)
□ Sherlock Junior (Buster Keaton)
□ Greed (Erich von Stroheim) (and I'm not just saying this because it's McTeague.)
□ Safety Last (Harold Lloyd)
□ The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin)
□ Metropolis (Fritz Lang)
□ (The Birth of a Nation) (D.W. Griffith)
□ (Battleship Potemkin) (Sergei Eisenstein)
□ (The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari) (Robert Wiene)


If the star is more important than the director, then they're in brackets after the film.

□ The Adventures of Robin Hood (Errol Flynn, d. Michael Curtiz)
□ Destry Rides Again (James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich)
□ Duck Soup (The Marx Brothers) □ Freaks (Tod Browning)
□ Gone With The Wind (I don't really have to explain this one, do I?)
□ It Happened One Night (Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, d. Frank Capra)
□ King Kong (Merian C. Cooper)
□ Little Caesar (Edward G. Robinson, d. Mervyn LeRoy)
□ Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (James Stewart, d. Frank Capra)
□ Public Enemy (James Cagney, d. William Wellman)
□ Pygmalion * (Anthony Asquith)
□ Stagecoach (John Ford) □ Tarzan And His Mate (I kid you not).
□ The Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke)
□ The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock)
□ Top Hat (Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers)
□ Way Out West (Laurel and Hardy)
□ The Wizard of Oz (I'm not explaining this one either...)

The genre I've left out here is the "Monster Movie" genre - any of the old Universal Horror films are worth a look. The best are Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933).

The 1940s 

□ The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wellman)
□ The Big Sleep (Bogart and Bacall, d. Howard Hawks)
□ The Big Heat (Fritz Lang)
□ Brief Encounter (David Lean)
□ Cat People (Jaques Tourneur)
□ Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
□ The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford)
□ The Great Dictator (Charles Chaplin)
□ I Know Where I'm Going (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)
□ The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges)
□ Laura (Otto Preminger)
□ The Maltese Falcon * (Bogart, d. John Huston)
□ Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford, d.Michael Curtiz)
□ Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton)
□ My Darling Clementine (John Ford)
□ My Little Chickadee (W.C. Fields and Mae West - in the same movie!)
□ Out Of The Past (Robert Mitchum, d. Jaques Tourneur)
□ The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges)
□ The Philadelphia Story (Cary Grant, James Stewart, Katherine Hepburn)
□ Red River (Howard Hawks)
□ Scarlet Street (d.Fritz Lang, and featuring The Great Dan Duryea)
□ Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock)
□ The Shop Around The Corner * (James Stewart, d. Ernst Lubitsch)
□ The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Bogart, d. John Huston)
□ White Heat (James Cagney, d. Raoul Walsh)

The 1950s

□ Ace In The Hole (Billy Wilder)
□ The Caine Mutiny (Bogart, d. Edward Dmytryk)
□ Forbidden Planet (Fred Wilcox)
□ Guys and Dolls (Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, d. Joseph L. Mankewicz)
□ High Society (Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, d. Charles Walters)
□ High Noon (Fred Zinneman)
□ In A Lonely Place (Bogart, and The Great Gloria Grahame, d. Nicholas Ray)
□ Invaders From Mars (William Cameron Menzies)
□ The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold)
□ Jailhouse Rock (Elvis, d. Richard Thorpe)
□ Magnificent Obsession (Douglas Sirk)
□ The Man With The Golden Arm (Frank Sinatra, d. Otto Preminger)
□ Niagra (Marilyn Monroe, d. Henry Hathaway)
□ Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon) (Jaques Tourneur)
□ Night of the Hunter (Robert Mitchum's best film, d. Charles Laughton)
□ North By Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock)
□ On The Waterfront (Marlon Brando, d. Elia Kazan)
□ Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick)
□ The Quiet Man (John Ford)
□ Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock)
□ Rebel Without a Cause (James Dean, d. Nicholas Ray)
□ Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks) □ The Searchers (John Ford)
□ The Seven Year Itch (Marilyn Monroe, d.Billy Wilder)
□ Shane (Alan Ladd, d. George Stevens)
□ Singin' In The Rain (Gene Kelly, d. Stanley Donen)
□ Stalag 17 (Billy Wilder)
□ Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock)
□ A Streetcar Named Desire (Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, d. Elia Kazan)
□ Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder)
□ The Thing (From Another World) (d. Howard Hawks)
□ Touch of Evil (Orson Welles)
□ The Wild One (Marlon Brando, d. Laslo Benedek)

The 1960s 

□ The Apartment * (Billy Wilder)
□ Cool Hand Luke (Paul Newman, d. Stuart Rosenberg)
□ Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers, d. Stanley Kubrick)
□ (Easy Rider) (d. Dennis Hopper)
□ A Fistful of Dollars (Clint Eastwood, d. Sergio Leone)
□ The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Sergio Leone)
□ The Graduate (Mike Nichols)
□ A Hard Day's Night (The Beatles, d. Richard Lester)
□ The Hustler (Robert Rossen)
□ The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford)
□ The Manchurian Candidate (Frank Sinatra, d. John Schlesinger)
□ Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger)
□ The Naked Kiss (Sam Fuller)
□ Night of The Living Dead (George A. Romero)
□ The Odd Couple (Gene Saks)
□ Peeping Tom (Michael Powell)
□ Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner)
□ Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)
□ Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Albert Finney, d. Karel Reisz)
□ The Servant (Joseph Losey) □ Shock Corridor (Sam Fuller)
□ 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
□ Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (Davis vs. Crawford, d. Robert Aldrich)
□ The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah)

The 1970s

□ Alien (Ridley Scott)
□ American Graffiti (George Lucas)
□ Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)
□ Chinatown (Roman Polanski)
□ A Clockwork Orange * (Stanley Kubrick)
□ The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola)
□ Dark Star (John Carpenter)
□ Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet)
□ Grease (Randall Kleiser) □ The Godfather (I and II) (Francis Ford Coppola)
□ Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby)  Jaws (Steven Spielberg)
□ Little Big Man (Arthur Penn)
□ Love and Death (Woody Allen)
□ The Man Who Would Be King (John Huston)
□ Manhatten (Woody Allen)
□ M*A*S*H (Robert Altman)
□ Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam)
□ Monty Python's Life of Brian (aka The Life of Brian) (Terry Jones)
□ Nashville (Robert Altman)
□ Norma Rae (Martin Ritt)
□ One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (Milos Forman)
□ The Parallax View (Alan J. Pakula)
□ Quadrophenia (Franc Roddam)
□ Rocky (John Avildsen)
□ Saturday Night Fever (John Badham)
□ Sleeper (Woody Allen)
□ Star Wars (George Lucas)
□ Summer of '42 ( Robert Mulligan)
□ Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)
□ Time After Time (Nicholas Meyer)

I'm assuming, rightly or wrongly, that you'll have seen most of the "classic" eighties movies, or at least be familiar with them. Here's a quick "off the top of my head" list though, just in case.

The 1980s 

□ Back To The Future * (Robert Zemeckis)
□ Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan) (But see Double Indemnity first).
□ Brazil (Terry Gilliam)
□ Diner (Barry Levinson)
□ Excalibur (John Boorman)
□ Gregory's Girl (Bill Forsyth)
□ Heathers (Michael Lehrmann)
□ King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese)
□ Matewan (John Sayles) □ Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese)
□ The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman)
□ Salvador (Oliver Stone)
□ The Terminator (James Cameron)
□ Tootsie (Sydney Pollack)

And finally, an appendix. You may have noticed the absence of foreign films. This was deliberate - I've saved them for last. This list is by no means exhaustive, but is a good start. Pretty much all of the following directors have several classics to their name. I suggest that if you like any of these, then you should check out other films by the same director. You won't be disappointed.

Classic Foreign Films

□ Alice In The Cities (1974, d. Wim Wenders)
□ Beauty and the Beast (1946, d. Jean Cocteau)
□ La Bete Humaine (1938, d. Jean Renoir)
□ Betty Blue (1986, d. Jean-Jaques Beineix)
□ Bicycle Thief (1949, d. Vittorio De Sica)
□ Breathless (1959, d. Jean Luc Godard)
□ Day For Night (1973, d. Francois Truffaut)
□ Days And Nights In The Forest (1970, d. Satyajit Ray)
□ Diabolique (1955, d. Henri-Georges Clouzout)
□ La Dolce Vita (1960, d. Federico Fellini)
□ Grand Illusion (1937, d. Jean Renoir)
□ Jean de Florette (1989, d. Claude Berri)
□ Le Jour Se Leve (1939, Marcel Carne)
□ Persona (1966, d. Ingmar Bergman)
□ Rashomon (1950, d. Akira Kurosawa)
□ La Ronde (1950, d. Max Ophuls)
□ Small Change (1976, d. Francois Truffaut)
□ That Obscure Object of Desire (1977, Luis Bunuel)
□ Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down! (1988, d. Pedro Almodavar)
□ The Wages of Fear (1953, d. Henri-Georges Clouzout)

I'd better stop now, or I'll be adding to these lists forever. Anyway, I hope this helps. If you want a '90s list, let me know.

Note: While transferring the above list to Letterboxd (in September 2012), I added the following 14 films:

Creature From The Black Lagoon
The Fountainhead
A Face in the Crowd
Bonnie and Clyde
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The Intruder (directed by Roger Corman, starring William Shatner)
Dirty Harry
Five Easy Pieces
Night Moves
Flash Gordon
E.T: The Extra Terrestrial
The Breakfast Club


At 8:33 PM , Blogger Ruby said...

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