First and foremost - What criteria lands a movie on a Best Movie list? For me, there is really only one - Watchability. Let's say you're sitting in front of the TV, flipping through the channels, looking for anything that catches your eye. You land on a movie. It's a movie you've seen countless times. You probably own it. And it's on a channel with commercials - and even worse, it's been edited for time and content. And you watch it anyway. That's Watchability.
Some of the movies on my list are generally agreed upon by both at least some critics and some movie lovers as genuine classics. Others are so off the wall that people may gasp in disbelief. But please remember the criteria. You can't seem to change the channel - even though......
I've tried to organize these loosely into categories to give the blog some semblance of order. Some of the movies easily cross over from one to the other - a film noir might also be an L.A. movie but you get the general idea.
All three Godfathers - stop screaming about how much you hated Sophia Coppola. I'm not even going to bother explaining why The Godfather and The Godfather II are masterpieces. We all know why. The first time I saw The Godfather III, I would have agreed with you. Then I revisited it by accident. It was on TV and I got caught up. I watched Director Coppola reframe key scenes from the first two movies - among them, notably, the dance between father and daughter, Sonny's boy Vincent Mancini tracking Joey Zaza through Little Italy in the way that the young Vito Corleone tracked the Black Hand extortionist Fanucci, and in the end, the death of Michael, reminiscent of the death of his father - two men who lived with violence and died as old men in their gardens. I'll go so far as to defend the casting of Sophia as Mary. She has an awkward and untutored grace that suits her character. A more polished professional would not have broken our hearts.
Casablanca - I'm skipping the comments on the obvious works of art.
The Third Man - If you missed this one, you missed the winner of the all time prize for the best black and white cinematography in the history of movies.
Gone With the Wind - With profound apologies to all who are offended by its pretty vision of kindly plantation owners and happy slaves. For the truth, see 12 Years A Slave. But this is Hollywood movie making on a grand scale. Watching the transformation of Scarlett is something like watching the transformation of Michael Corleone. And love her or hate her, the family wouldn't have survived the Civil War without her.
Legends of the Fall - I have a friend who hates this movie as much as I love it. She says that every time the music swells and Brad Pitt gallops into view, she wants to throw up, I get tears in my eyes. Poor Julia Ormand, beautiful Karina Lombard - I thought Tristan would never live to be an old man. I was wrong about that. I was wrong about many things. It was those who loved him most who died young. He was a rock they broke themselves against however much he tried to protect them.
Sad to say, nowadays we have Saw and Hostel - movies that cannot seem to go far enough to shock and disgust viewers. But in the past we had -
Black Christmas - the original starring Margot Kidder - if you're going to rent it, make sure you get the right one. I haven't been up in the attic since.
The Original Halloween - anything that came later doesn't count. The scariest thing about this movie was the atmosphere - those empty small town streets - and the best was the heroine Jamie Lee Curtis.
Misery - Speaking of great lead performances, they don't come much better than Kathy Bates in her Oscar winning performance as Annie Wilkes. " I thought you were good, Paul. But you're not good. You're just an old dirty birdy". Now that's high praise for a writer.
Don't Look Now - Not quite sure it belongs in this group, but it is moody, atmospheric and has an ending you don't see coming.
Cat People - Director Paul Shrader - starring John Heard, Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell in an erotic remaking of the 1942 classic. This one's better.
Silence of The Lambs - First Horror movie to be named Best Picture - deservedly so. Anthony Hopkins superb portrayal of Hannibal Lector sometimes obscures Jodie Foster's performance but it shouldn't.
Fargo - where to put it. It's got a lot of funny moments, but it isn't really a conventional comedy - but then, the Coen brothers don't make conventional movies in any genre. Another brilliant Best Actress Frances McDormand as the very pregnant Police Chief. - "OK, so we got a trooper pulls someone over, we got a shooting, these folks drive by, there's a high-speed pursuit, ends here and then this execution-type deal".
High Anxiety - I'll go on record as saying this is Mel Brooks' funniest movie - a brilliant pastiche of Hitchcock films - far funnier than Blazing Saddles.
The Bird Cage - Robin Williams and Nathan Lane are spectacularly hysterical and don't overlook Gene Hackman's dead-pan reactionary politico.
Tootsie - Many great moments, but none better than Dorothy's unveiling herself as a male accompanied by a rambling monologue reminiscent of all of the soap operas we loved for years until they were replaced by an endless parade of dull cookie-cutter daytime talk shows.
Mash - I'm a huge fan of the incomparable Robert Altman. If you've only seen the TV series, take a look at the movie that inspired it.
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Here we go again - it's funny but not sure it's a comedy. Ellen Burstyn won her Best Actress Award for this role. Watch for a terrific turn by Jodie Foster.
I loved the dancing of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse and Leslie Caron but my heart is with more modern musicals - a sampling:
West Side Story - I always side with The Sharks - they have the best songs and the best dances - America.
Cabaret - Not a huge fan of Lisa Minnelli except for her role as the divinely decadent Sally Bowles. The Academy loved her too. Another Best Actress.
Phantom of the Opera - Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum and a splendid sound track.
This uniquely American genre is very well represented by the three movies that made Clint Eastwood a star - directed by the Italian director Sergio Leone and filmed outside the U.S. A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More were filmed in Spain and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in Italy and Spain. The music is an added delight.
The Magnificent Seven - An incredible cast, a timeless story of a few good "bad men" helping a poor Mexican village free itself from the grip of an evil tyrant. My only complaint is that any of the seven had to die.
Geronimo An American Legend - This is a heartbreaking vision of the systematic destruction of a proud people. Watch for Steve Reevis getting on and off a horse I can hit the rewind button on that scene a few times every viewing. (You can also see him in a different light as Shep Proudfoot in Fargo).
Last of The Mohicans - Forget about Daniel Day Lewis and watch for Eric Schweig as Uncas.
Not really a fan except for one movie - Blade Runner - the original with Harrison Ford's voiceover. It's really more of a film noir set in the near future of Los Angeles. Daryl Hannah's best performance is her portrayal of the replicant Pris. She's scary.
My favorite category. So many of these are uniquely L.A. films but one is set in Florida.
Chinatown - Nuff said.
Body Heat - ties with Chinatown for number one.
L.A. Confidential - oh, wait - it's a three way tie.
True Confessions - Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall as brothers - one a powerful monsignor in L.A.'s Catholic diocese, the other a cynical cop, played out against a murder based loosely on the Black Dahlia case.
The Long Goodbye - directed by Robert Altman, starring Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe with terrific performances by Sterling Hayden, Nina Van Pallandt, director Mark Rydell, baseball player Jim Bouton. Watch for a cameo by a young unknown - Arnold Schwarzenegger.
To Live and Die In L.A. - I fell in love with William Petersen as Chance but don't overlook John Pankow as his partner John Vukovich or Willem Dafoe as the counterfeiter Eric Masters. Most people think William Friedkin's best picture is The French Connection. My vote goes to this movie - it's got a sexier protagonist and an even better car chase.
I don't see many of these but I'm not sure where else to put Thelma and Louise. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis should have won joint Oscars for this one.
Point Break - Keanu Reeves is beautiful - Gary Busey is funny and ultimately tragic - the action is spectacular - directed by the incomparable Kathryn Bigelow. One of my favorite movies of all time - is there anything better than surfing bank robbers??
BEST WORST MOVIE EVER
Showgirls - sure, I believe it when Gina Gershon thanks Elizabeth Berkley for breaking her leg so she can have a rest from performing, when Nomi gets away with kicking the shit out of the bad guy, when Nomi gets her nipples iced so that she will be more provocative on stage - the list goes on and on. It's like the worst freeway multi-vehicle accident in history - you know it's wrong to stop and look, but you can't look away.
THE MOST POORLY REVIEWED MOVIE OF 2013 - AND, FOR ME, ONE OF THE BEST
The Counselor - written by Cormac McCarthy - author of No Country for Old Men, among other works, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Michael Fassbender and Cameron Diaz, seconded by Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, with star cameos by Brad Pitt, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Edgar Ramirez, Dean Norris and Ruben Blades, among others. On the surface, it's about a drug deal gone wrong - but there's a lot more to it. It's a meditation on everything that flows from one bad choice - as an attorney suffering from an excess of hubris ignores all warnings and makes the worst decision of his life. McCarthy's script is the best original screenplay of the year although it will be ignored by The Hollywood Foreign Press Association and The Academy.
IN CLOSING - THE BEST MOVIE OF 2013 (THAT I'VE SEEN - I HAVE A VERY LONG LIST OF MOVIES TO CATCH UP ON)
#1 - so far - American Hustle - powered by the greatest ensemble cast imaginable -
led by an incandescent Amy Adams. She even manages to outdo Jennifer Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence is pretty splendid. Bradley Cooper is the best I've ever seen him as a maniac federal agent. Christian Bale may look like a joke but he is the master of the con. As NJ Mayor Carmine Polito, Jeremy Renner is at his best since The Hurt Locker. Michael Pena, one of the best actors around, can do more with a tiny role than most actors can do with a lot more screen time. A wonderful sound track sets the mood for a wild ride. Pay attention - the one criticism I've read is that it is difficult to follow what these people are up to. People said the same thing about Chinatown. Stay focused. No daydreaming, checking texts and e mails. Sharpen those intellectual skills. There's more to movies than 3D, car crashes, explosions and zombies.