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43 Films That You Absolutely Must See

This list is in no particular order and many of you film-o-philes will undoubtedly find some curious omissions. For one, no Citizen Kane, a movie I love but, c’mon, it’s been used.  I tried to keep the list director or genre specific, meaning that I might skip a film in order to make it a more inclusive list. I’d also like to apologize to some my favorite auteurs that are conspicuously absent: Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Fritz Lang, François Truffaut,  Ridley Scott, Jean Luc Goddard, Pedro Almodovar, and certainly others I can’t remember. 

  1. Casablanca – “Best script ever written,” according to “Robert McKee.” If you don’t get this joke don’t worry, but you missed another good movie. Not much to be said here; you’d have to be one cynical son-of-a-bitch not to love it. “How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Some day they may be scarce.”
  2. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – It figures an Italian would make the best films about the most American genre there is.  The film I’ve seen more times than any other, it’s sorta the soundtrack for my life. “He who double crosses me and leaves me alive, he understands nothing about Tuco… nothing.”
  3. The Big Sleep – Okay, so it’s a little disjointed and hard to follow, who cares? Noirs are about scenes, and scene by scene nothing beats it. Slim’s scene in the “casino” where she sings Sad Tomato is Ted Martinez’s favorite from any film (even though nothing happens in it), and that’s just the tip of the Chanlder-esque iceberg. “I could make it my business.” “ I could make your business mine.” “You wouldn’t like it, the pay’s too small.”
  4. The Right Stuff – I’ll let former Shop employee Kelly O’Mara answer this one. An artsy, sarcastic, chain-smoking, self-deprecating Isla Vista resident is that last person you’d think would go for this flag-waving piece of Americana. The only reason she even considered watching it was because I had it on when she came to work. When I returned later in the day she was beaming, “That’s how men are supposed to behave”. “Is that a man?” “You’re damn right it is.”
  5. The Moderns – If I could go anywhere in time it would probably be Paris, during the 1920’s, so I could sit in café’s with Papa, Miller, Stein, Nin, Maughm, et al.  Just once I’d like to be able to say, “I ran into Maurice Ravel in the men’s room. He didn’t recognize me.” Alan Rudolph’s over-the-top homage follows an ex-pat painter. “I’d rather be broke in Paris. To be broke in America is down right immoral.”
  6. Miller’s Crossing –Arguably the Cohen’s best work, it’s sort of slipped through the cracks. Except that ever film person I’ve ever mentioned tends to say the same thing. An almost perfect film, there isn’t a single scene that doesn’t work or leave an impression. “If I knew we were going to cast our feelings into words, I would have memorized the ‘Song of Solomon’.”
  7. Le Grand Bleu – Certainly Luc Besson’s piece de resistance, this may not be one of the greatest films of all time. But this list is for my friends, and you’ll be a lot more comfortable around the gang (especially me, Bob, and Normal Guy) if you know who Jacques and Enzo are. “It’s better down there,” for sure. There are many versions of this film. The best is the director’s cut, but any that are over 2 hours are worth seeing. Avoid the American release. It doesn’t make sense. “How long can you hold your breath?”
  8. The Professionals – Don’t mix this up with Besson’s film starring Enzo (Jean Reno). This is a Western starring Lee Marvin (Rico Fardan) and Burt Lancaster (Bill Dolworth) about a group of men who’ve outlived their time. Also, essential in understanding the Bob and Steve relationship. “Well, I’ll be damned.” “Most of us are.”
  9. The Big Lebowski – The Cohen’s other definitive work. Like Star Trek, this didn’t catch-on during its initial release but has become a cult classic. I mean, after he’d seen the premiere, some guy (in the Industry) told me it was “about nothing.” What? It’s about everything. “Does the Pope shit in the woods?”
  10. Straight To Hell – No one should be allowed to know me without seeing this. Okay, it may not be the quintessential screen classic. To paraphrase Bill Murray in Stripes, “Alex Cox is going to be huge someday, and you’re going to say, ‘I’ve been watching his films for years, and I think they’re fabulous.” Did I mention this was a film about blood, money, coffee, and sexual tension? “Come on down to the hacienda, boys. It’s nearly happy hour. And there’s plenty of coffee!”
  11. Barfly – Charles Bukowski’s alter ego, Henry Chinowski, is hits the big screen in all his glory. A sort of drunk’s fantasy, director Barbet Schoeder seems to have been able to mind meld with Bukowski to re-create a world that’s never quite existed. Except to me, and my weird friends. “Whattaya do?” “I drink.’ “Here’s to all my frrriiieeeeeennnds!”
  12. Repo Man – This is the film that made Cox a household word in Hollywood before Straight to Hell and Walker got him blacklisted. “Look at those poor assholes over there. Ordinary fuckin’ people. I hate ‘em.”
  13. Office Space – If you’ve ever worked in an office this is not to be missed.  Funniest sex scene in screen history.  “So everyday becomes the worst day of my life. “ “Ummm, yeah.”
  14. Joe vs. The Volcano – This metaphor for living bombed because it was disguised as a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan vapidfest and, well, it’s not. “Have you thought much about luggage? It is the central preoccupation of my life.”
  15. Big Trouble in Little China – “What?” Without a doubt John Carpenter’s definitive work. Perhaps Kurt Russell’s as well.  “China is here. What does that mean? I don’t even know what that means.”
  16. Used Cars – I love movies were the good guys aren’t good guys. If this bombed, it’s because people couldn’t identify with a hero. I mean, they’re all used car salesmen. Robert “Forrest Gump” Zemekis called this his favorite all-time project. “50 grand buys me the nomination and I’m a shoo-in. Then I go fifty-fifty on all the graft I take in. Politics, Lou, it’s a chance to make something out of myself.”                          
  17. North By Northwest – An intentional comedy that was mistaken for an unintentional one.  That’s Hitch’s genius, always able to keep people guessin’.  And Cary Grant is still the quintessential leading man. “I have two ex-wives, a mother, and several bartenders depending on me.”
  18. Strictly Ballroom –Baz Luhrman’s first pic is a blast, from Ken’s Spa-O-Rama, to Federation President Barry Fife, to  “Show me your paso double, ” it’s a dizzying ride along the ‘don’t live in fear’ railroad and even the corniest of endings gets to me every single time. “There will be no new steps!”
  19. Never Cry Wolf – No one shoots better scenery than Carol Ballard and this tops his list. A funny and poetic tale of a man finding his spirit and oneness with the earth, and some wolves. You know you’ve made something special when the best scene in the film is absolutely silent. See it with a big screen in a quiet room. “You know what beats boredom, Tyler? Adventure!”
  20. The Milagro Beanfield War – A piece of magic on celluloid. Overlooked, misunderstood, and way underrated. I’ve always wondered what Redford thinks of this, because I’ll bet he agrees with me. His best work, maybe by far. “No one would do anything, if they knew what they were ‘in for.’”
  21. Touch Of Evil – What’s a “best of” list without Orson Welles. The classic low-budge noir, even with Chuck Heston playing a Mexican. “It’s either the candy or the hooch.”
  22. Iron Monkey – What list would be complete without at least one Chinese movie? But do we go epic, like Swordsman II? Modern, like God of Cookery?  Or popular, like Jackie’s Police Story or  Woo’s Hardboiled? So I submit one right in between; a historical film that was very popular and moves with lightning speed. I guess if I could only see one Hong Kong film, this would be my choice. Make sure you get the right translation. How will you know? “It’s pist the same!”
  23. American in Paris – Arguably the greatest musical ever made, though most would give the nod to Singin’ in the Rain.  For me, it’s a toss-up as they almost feel like a continuous movie, even though the plots are totally different.  My brother and I were watching this recently and Brian couldn’t stop laughing.  Because of the film? No, because “according to Todd, this isn’t how life is supposed to be, but it’s how life actually is.” “In America, they said I didn’t have any talent. They may be saying the same thing over here but is sounds better in French.”
  24. The Forbidden Zone – Oh, sure, Danny Elfmin’s all famous now. But what about his brother Richard, where’s his love? After all, he directed Danny in this. One of the oddest films ever made, it’s really hard to explain. All I can say is that when Binky went to rent it at a store in Seattle, they made him leave a $300 cash deposit.  Now there’s some love.  “Bim, bam, boom. Bim, bam, boom…”
  25. Double Indemnity – Ever see a movie that’s better than the book (besides Blade Runner)? James M. Cain’s slightly boring novel is brought to the screen with Chandler writing the dialog. The result is some of the snappiest of all-time.  “We keep the liquor cabinet locked up.” “That’s okay, I carry my own keys.”
  26. Henry V – Perhaps we’re moving towards a higher state of communicating by telepathy, but all I know is that in a few hundred years we’ve managed to distill an eloquent and beautiful language down to communicating mainly by use of the words fuck, dude, actually, and like. Still the best of the Bard’s screen adaptations, and the best thing Branaugh’s done, I can’t watch this film without it evoking tears of passion. “Pray thee wish not one man more…”
  27. Porco Rosso – There should probably be more than one Miuzaki film on this list, so I went with the more obscure over the obvious Mononoke Hime or Spirited Away. There’s a lot more to animation than Disney would have you believe. This is basically a period film on aeronautical pirates in the Adriatic that just happens to be drawn.  “A pig who doesn’t fly is just a pig.”
  28. Local Hero – Subtle beauty from Bill Forsyth, about a corporate guy from Texas who reluctantly becomes enchanted by a small town in Scotland.  If you’re not paying close attention, the magic of this film will most likely slip right by. “You think Gordon and Stella do it everyday?” “Of course not.”
  29. All The President’s Men – Perhaps top of the political thriller genre, and based on the true story surrounding Watergate.  Just one of a stack of great 70’s thrillers that include, The Parallax View, The China Syndrome, and Three Days of the Condor. “Remember when you were young and hungry?”
  30. Mr. Deed’s Goes To Town – The best of Capra. I never cared for Gary Cooper but he’s perfectly cast here as a simple small town guy who inherits millions and instantly becomes a celebrity. “I don’t know why he left me all that money. I don’t need it.”
  31. Evil Dead II – There had to be something here from the horror genre. Instead of going with the scariest movie of all time, Alien, I’ll go with the funniest. Sam Rami’s send-up of the kids-on-an-ill-fated-trip theme. “Groovy,” indeed. But “who’s laughing now?”
  32. Man Who Would Be King –A couple bumblies with big dreams who go AWOL and sneak into Afghanistan to seek riches.  Connery’s likeness to the only other white men they’ve seen, Alexander, convinces the natives he’s a God. All is just dandy ‘til the loftiness of the position starts to wear away on a man with humanly desires. Absolutely classic acting by Sean Connery and Michael Cain. “But how many men have been the places we’ve been, and seen the things we’ve seen?” “Bloody few.”
  33. Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai – Another under-the-radar  classic, in the Edwardian sense.  Don’t know why I’ve always liked this so much, but John Lithgow once said it was the most fun he’d ever had with a character.  Don’t miss the Secretary of Defense, a dead-ringer for Don Rumsfeld, whom I’m pretty certain has based his real-life persona on this character. “Hey, hey, don’t be mean. Because, no matter where you go, there you are.”
  34. Eiger Sanction – Before there were Action/Comedies there were unintentional action/comedies that, of course, were far funnier. This film, like many of Eastwood’s over-the-top works (Bronco Billy, etc), is a scream. Not only that, is features some nice climbing and is still able to pull-off some good tension. Don’t miss characters include Jonathon “just happens to be an assassin” Hemlock,  George Kennedy’s character’s daughter George,  Miles “I’ll have a daiquiri” Mellow, Dragon (“My blood has to be completely replaced every year” “With what?”), Karl “The Leader” Freitag, Ben “Boy are we gonna drink a lot of beer” Beauman, and the brilliant Pope, “My superior wants to see you.” “Your superior. Well that doesn’t narrow the field too much, does it?”
  35. Big Wednesday – Way underrated outside of the surfer crowd; something I could never understand. I did find a review, from Time Out in England,  that called it the definitive film about America from the 70’s, which is pretty much how I see it. A lot more than surfing, which is only a backdrop for life during the 60’s and 70’s. “A swell so big it will wipe out everything that came before it.”
  36. High and Low – No film list is complete without something from Kurosawa. Here’s one you may not have seen. He didn’t just make historical films. This modern day thriller (from the 60’s) was a decade ahead of its time. “Mushi, mushi.”
  37. Chinatown – Roman Polanski’s brilliant version of early LA and its water issues.  The classiest of the noirs, though it doesn’t really count since it’s in color and was made in 1974. Even if you’ve never been to LA, this will make you nostalgic for the way it once was. “LA’s a small town. People talk.”
  38. Slacker – A modern version of Renoir’s Rules of the Game, (some will undeniably balk at this analogy), done for no money around the streets of Austin, Texas. Richard Linkletter’s first film is a classic look at college/slacker life from the early 90’s. “Sure, I may live bad, but at least I don’t have to work to do it.”
  39. Elmer Gantry – Probably Burt Lancaster’s greatest role as the most larger-than-life character this side of Cpt Kirk.  Like its main character, this film both embraces The Bible and lambastes commercial religion.  “When I was a child, I spake as a child, understood as a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things. ”
  40. Anatomy of a Murder – Otto Preminger made too many great films to be left off this list. This one’s my favorite, though Man With the Golden Arm is close. Jimmy Stewart—one of my all-time favs that’s perfectly cast—and George C. Scott go head to head in court, with Ben Gazarra as well. “Now, Your Honor, I know I’m not as worldly as my esteemed colleague from Lansing….”
  41. This is Spinal Tap – Almost overlooked here because I thought it was too obvious, until I kept running into people who hadn’t seen it.  What the?! This is the best comedy ever made, bar none, and was so effective that it bombed during it’s initial release because crowds thought it was about a real band they just hadn’t heard of—amazing.  “…the looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand, or so I have read.”
  42. Monty Python’s Meaning of Life – Probably not as good as either Life of Brian or Holy Grail, but less people have seen it and, for chissakes, it’s about the meaning of life. Nothing Python did should be missed.  “Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is good. Every sperm is needed, in your neigh-bor-hood….”
  43.  The Endless Summer – How Bruce Brown does what he does it is a complete mystery. All I know is that he’s made three films about sports that I don’t care much about that are the three best sports docs I’ve seen. I first caught this as a kid. I didn’t surf, nor did I care about surfing, yet I remembered almost every line of the last half hour of the movie (all I saw) for more than a decade until I found out what it was. Maybe it’s his ability to come up with lines like, “he’s so calm up there he could eat a ham sandwich…” “Thank you for watching. I hope you enjoyed my film.”