THE AUTHOR’S TOP 100 MOVIES OF ALL TIME
Selecting my Top 100 Movies of all time has been a difficult task. Determining what should make the list and what to leave out, considering I have probably watched close to 10,000 movies in my life, seemed to take me forever.
When I look at the Top 100 Movies lists of other writers, critics and aficionados, I often see the same pictures listed over and over again – Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, All About Eve, Touch of Evil, Ordinary People, Kramer vs. Kramer, and so on, yet none of these fine films made it into my Top 100 Movies list, so perhaps I should explain why.
I am not much interested in the technical side of movie-making: lighting, camera angles, the use of light and shadow, even directorial brilliance (so-called). My list of my Top 100 Movies of all time is built around two things and two things only:
Did I enjoy watching this picture?
Would I gain pleasurable entertainment from watching it several times?
If a movie gets a tick in each of those boxes it goes on my short list. Well, actually, my short list for the Top 100 Movies was anything but short. Initially, it probably contained around 400 titles, but I have gradually whittled them down to the 100 you see listed below.
You might notice right away that two of my favourites started out as mini-series. I refer to Lonesome Dove and Gettysburg. Since both films went to DVD and to Blu-ray as feature films, however, in my opinion they merited inclusion in my Top 100 Movies list.
I make no apologies for including what ‘experts’ would probably describe as ‘fluff’, ‘soaps’, ‘B grade fare’, or whatever. If a movie kept me entertained, and did so on more than one occasion, it became a candidate. If another was universally acclaimed by the critics as some kind of ‘masterpiece’, yet bored me to tears – out it went.
An example might be the 1950 drama All about Eve. I loved everything about this movie except for Anne Baxter’s interminable story of her life monologue at the beginning. It sounded false, it looked false, and it went on forever. Consequently, I do not sit down and watch All about Eve anymore. Consequently, it did not make my Top 100 Movies list.
Anyway, here goes: Perhaps, you have not seen some of these pictures. If not, I thoroughly recommend each and every one.
#1 CASABLANCA (1942)
Humphrey Bogart – Ingrid Bergman – Claude Rains
A wonderfully scripted film that reeks of atmosphere and intrigue. The score is perfect for the mood and the characters are all rich and believable. Bogart is ideally cast as the laconic, world-weary hero, but he is ably supported by Rains and, to a lesser extent, Bergman.
#2 LONESOME DOVE (1989)
Robert Duvall – Tommy Lee Jones – Diane Lane
The ultimate historical western. Although technically a mini-series, it has been released on Blu-ray and is really in effect a very long movie. Lonesome Dove has everything that goes to make up superb entertainment – a great story, a sublime script, two of the finest lead actors ever to appear on the screen, and an assortment of supporting players that is second to none. There is not a discordant note or dull sequence in the entire picture. A brilliant depiction of a bygone era.
#3 ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976)
Robert Redford – Dustin Hoffman – Jason Robards Jr
There are two amazing things about this movie. First, it was made pretty much at the time Tricky Dicky Nixon was playing funny buggers, and second; even though the audience knew the result it maintained tension and suspense throughout. Robards is first class.
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#4 FARGO (1996)
Frances McDormand – Steve Buscemi – William H Macy
A superb black comedy typical of the Coen Brothers. McDormand is always good, as are Buscemi and Macy, but it is the characters and situations created by the writers that make this movie exceptional. Regardless of the opening credits, this story is not based on an actual crime spree, but who cares? It is wildly entertaining throughout.
#5 MY COUSIN VINNY (1992)
Joe Pesci – Marisa Tomei – Fred Gwynne
There is scarcely a scene in this entire movie that does not produce a laugh or, at least a chuckle. Pesci and Tomei are ideally cast, but the supports are all highly watchable and funny in their own right. My Cousin Vinny is one of those films that is watchable over and again because it is rich in memorable moments.
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#6 LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
Peter O’Toole – Omar Sharif – Alec Guinness
The story and actors almost play third fiddle to the cinematography and the score. It is certainly a slow-paced movie, but it is rich in superb characterizations and the action sequences are exciting. Guinness, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy and Anthony Quinn all add to the mix, but it is really O’Toole and Sharif’s picture. Not a single female has dialogue or close-up screen time.
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#7 A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958)
Kenneth More – Michael Goodliffe – Honor Blackman
Easily the best ‘Titanic’ movie ever made. More is cast perfectly as First Officer Lightoller and the entire tragedy is handled with great historical accuracy (and great tension) by the British director.
[imdblt]A NIGHT TO REMEMBER[/imdblt]
#8 MISSISSIPPI BURNING (1988)
Gene Hackman – Willem Dafoe – Frances McDormand
Hackman proves again why he is one of the most watchable actors in the history of American cinema. He and Dafoe take on the KKK in this fact-based drama of racial hatred and cold-blooded murder in the Deep South of the 1960s. Mcdormand is her usual excellent self, but so is an array of supporting players who add class to an already classy production.
#9 THIRTEEN DAYS (2000)
Bruce Greenwood – Steven Culp – Dylan Baker
Speaking of history lessons, this one covers in compelling detail the thirteen days that saw the world poised on the brink of nuclear annihilation in 1962 courtesy of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kevin Costner is top-billed here, but it is Greenwood and Culp as the Kennedy brothers who dominate the story (and the acting). This is dramatic history story-telling at its finest.
#10 LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998)
Jason Statham – Vinnie Jones – Jason Flemyng
Considering the enormous amount of violence in this film, it is quite a surprise to discover an endless supply of witty, humorous dialogue. Statham was always going to be a star and ex soccer-player Vinnie Jones has similar star quality, if a little less refined. A wonderful mix of Cockney good guys and bad guys populate a fast-paced, action-packed caper.
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#11 DOUBLE JEOPARDY (1999)
Ashley Judd – Tommy Lee Jones – Bruce Greenwood
Ashley Judd is a most under-rated actress who always turns in a strong performance. She is also deceptively beautiful. Tommy Lee Jones can handle these kinds of role in his sleep, and Greenwood plays the charming nasty with aplomb. A really entertaining drama that never loses momentum
#12 THE SEARCHERS (1956)
John Wayne – Jeffrey Hunter – Ward Bond
Quite simply this John Ford western is the best one ever made. The Duke has always been under-estimated as an actor, and he must have felt he was gipped at the Oscars when his super performance here was overlooked (just as it had been when he made Red River in 1948). A great movie magnificently photographed in Monument Valley.
#13 A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)
Tom Hanks – Geena Davis – Jon Lovitz
A nostalgic look at the war years when women’s baseball briefly took over while the men were away killing people. Tom Hanks displays his amazing versatility, Geena Davis demonstrates her athletic ability, and Jon Lovitz is his usual hilarious self. Although primarily a comedy, there are some very touching scenes here and there that round out a thoroughly enjoyable picture.
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#14 MIDNIGHT RUN (1988)
Robert DeNiro – Charles Grodin – Dennis Farina
Basically an action-comedy, Midnight Run never stops springing surprises and delivering chuckles. De Niro is terrific and Farina proves again that his real-life cop background in no way hinders his portrayals of very nasty individuals. John Ashton is a delight as a bungling bounty hunter always one step behind De Niro’s character.
#15 DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)
Fred MacMurray – Barbara Stanwyck – Edward G Robinson
The best of all the film noirs made. MacMurray surprised everyone as Walter Neff, but the picture is pretty much stolen by Robinson’s portrayal of the relentless insurance investigator Keyes. The script is first class, the tension maintained throughout, and the black and white photography is magnificent.
#16 ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)
Tom Hanks – Paul Newman – Jude Law
Hanks really is a marvelous actor. His versatility has him playing Forrest Gump one minute, a young boy the next in Big, a drunken baseball coach in A League of Their Own, and a vengeful gangland enforcer named Mike Sullivan in this 1930s drama. This movie captures the Depression era perfectly with rich characterizations from Newman, Law and Daniel Craig; but it is Hanks’s picture all the way.
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#17 LIVE FROM BAGHDAD (2002)
Michael Keaton – Helena Bonham Carter – David Suchet
CNN’s rise to broadcasting power via the first Gulf War is covered here in a snappy yet serious manner, graced by a fine cast who underplay (mostly). The tension is tangible as war approaches and Keaton’s character tries everything (within the rules) to gain an edge on rival media groups. Carter is as compelling as always. A great history lesson as well.
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#18 APOLLO 13 (1995)
Tom Hanks – Gary Sinise – Ed Harris
Director Ronnie Howard managed to make a tension-packed thriller out of an incident that most of us already knew had a happy ending. No small feat. The really amazing aspect of this story is the incredible determination and ingenuity of the people involved in getting the crew back to Earth.
#19 ELIZABETH (1998)
Cate Blanchett – Geoffrey Rush – John Gielgud
One of the better historical dramas enhanced by sterling performances from the key players, in particular Blanchett, Rush and Christopher Eccleston as the Duke of Norfolk. Look for Daniel Craig playing an assassin/priest.
#20 SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF (1969)
James Garner – Jack Elam – Harry Morgan
If you cannot laugh at this highly original western, then it is safe to say you have no sense of humor. Garner is one of the best at playing a charming, glib, smarty-pants, always in full control of the situation. The very witty script here is made to order for him. Funny westerns are rare, so for one to make my top twenty is evidence of its exceptional quality.
[imdblt]SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF[/imdblt]
I truly do like The Searchers and think John Wayne was made for the part of Ethan (or vice versa). I realize that tastes are individual and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but for me John Ford’s finest film ever is Clementine. Fonda is at his best in a low-key portrayal of Earp; Victor Mature, so often wooden, seems inspired; Walter Brennan, often cast as a needy sidekick, is outstanding as the vicious killer, Old Man Clanton. Linda Darnell, as is so often the case with actresses in westerns, has too little to do but does it well. (I’ve always thought she was underrated and underappreciated.) A scene in the bar — Earp asks Mac, the barkeep, “Mac, have you ever been in love. No, I’ve been a bartender all my life.”
Thankyou for your interesting comments, Craig. Obviously, I really like ‘The Searchers’, but am less enamoured of ‘My Darling Clementine. As a historian, I find the gunfight at the end so hopelessly NOT like the real gunfight at the OK Corral, that it positively aggravates me. Indeed, historically, Earp and his activities are usually exaggerated in films, courtesy of Stuart Lake’s book which is more fantasy than reality. Still, that is just the historian in me coming out. I do like Victor Mature in this film. Come to think of it – in most of his films.
Thank you for your reply to my comments on Clementine. I know that the film is a highly fictionalized portrayal of the gunfight and the events leading up it it. I would chalk it up to artistic license. (I learned long ago that holding movies depicting historical events to actual history will make for a very disappointed viewer. So I liberated myself.)
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