For father’s day I’m going to take a little break from my focus on movies for kids and take a look at my all time top ten favorite films. These are the movies that I can watch again and again, anytime, anywhere. I’ve always had this list in the back of my mind but it’s been a while since I’ve written it down and I found that it was difficult to stop at just ten. You’ll see that in among my descriptions of the top ten other movies often pop up, and after the first ten I go on to list ten more. But calling it my top twenty seemed overzealous and indulgent. So, without further ado, on to the selfless and not-at-all indulgent list!
Casablanca – It’s cool, it’s funny, it’s exciting and melodramatic – in the best way. I’ve watched Casablanca at least once a year since I first discovered it back in the mid-seventies. Once, in high school, I read the script because watching the movie wasn’t enough, and for some reason we had the script in our high school library. My kids are fascinated by the fact that the scene with the Marseillaise is the only thing guaranteed to make me cry every time I see it. I also love To Have and Have Not and Across the Pacific1 but only because they are pale imitations of Casablanca.
Star Wars – I’m of the first generation of kids that was rocked to its core by the advent of Star Wars. I have no choice but to be obsessed by it. And yes, I’m one of those dads who had to show his kids the movies in their proper order starting with episodes IV, V, and VI. No special editions allowed.
Apollo 13 – It’s my opinion that landing on the moon is humanity’s greatest achievement and Apollo 13 is the best story to demonstrate the courage and ingenuity required to make it happen.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – The best new old adventure movie of all time. No amount of CGI explosions, punching superheroes, car chases, gunplay, or giant robot hijinks can match it for pure energy and excitement.
Lawrence of Arabia – Dune is my favorite novel and even though there’s a film version I’ve always felt that Lawrence of Arabia was a better interpretation of the story2 and did a better job of conveying the vast desolation of the desert.
Swing Time – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. There are times when their dancing becomes the best metaphor for a physical expression of love ever committed to film. That’s some serious acting for 1936 – or any time.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – I enjoy a good kung-fu movie as much as the next person but Crouching Tiger was a revelation that the flying, spinning battles can be a part of the art and romance as much as quiet scenes of repressed emotion. I’ve been an Ang Lee fan for a long time and this is my favorite of his films.
Tampopo – This movie sent me on a lifelong quest for the perfect ramen noodle soup. It’s the best Japanese noodle western of all time. And next to Babette’s Feast the best movie about food as an expression of something more than just, well, food.
Babette’s Feast – Do you remember this one from 1987? A Danish film about two sisters in a remote village who turn their back on life in the wider world so they can continue to serve their father and his small Protestant congregation. The film culminates in a lavish feast prepared by Babette, the French woman who came to work for them many years before. This is a quietly amazing film based on the story by Karen Blixen and has been on my top 10 consistently – pretty much since 1987.
Raising Arizona – I’ve been a fan of the Cohen brothers since Blood Simple and for me this has always been their greatest achievement. Barton Fink, Fargo, and O Brother Where Art Thou are awesome, The Big Lebowski is a cult classic, and No Country For Old Men won the Oscar for best picture but Raising Arizona is comic poetry. H.I.’s narration raises the colloquial American voice to an art form and not a day goes by when I don’t drawl at my children, “Mind you don’t cut yourself, Mordechai.”
And 10 more for good measure.
I have more to say about these but I’ll save that for another time. Release dates and directors listed for clarification.
Das Boot (1981 Wolfgang Petersen)
Afterlife (1998 Hirokazu Koreeda)
The Empire Strikes Back
Shall We Dance (1937)4
Three Musketeers (1973 Richard Lester)5
Sense and Sensibility (1995 Ang Lee)
Pride and Prejudice (2005 Joe Wright)6
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Lost in Translation
1 Yes, I know Across the Pacific came out before Casablanca. But only by a couple of months, and Casablanca is still way more awesome.
2 Even though it’s based on a true story that happened decades before Dune was written.
3 “A riot is an ugly thing – and I think it is about time we had one!”
4 Fred and Ginger again. Not to be mistaken for the many other films of the same name.
5 Also not to be mistaken for the many other adaptations. Best gritty sword fighting ever.
6 Yes, yes, the 1995 Colin Firth version is great – but also, TV.
Do you agree or disagree with my assessment or have something to add?
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Let me know what you think.