I wasn’t sure how to organize this, so I decided to do it in chronological order, with the first movie being from 1924 and the latest from 2007. I plan on very short write-ups of 10 posts of 10 movies each.
This is a very personal list and while there are many movies here which are considered true blue classics and are beloved by everyone, there are just as many that are strictly personal favorites. For instance, there’s a certain 1954 swashbuckler featuring a guy with a funky haircut that no one seems to like but me.
There were about 15 or so movies that did not make the final cut. I’ll list them at the end. I guess it’s cheating a bit, but after all it’s my blog, so I can do what I want.
There were dozens and dozens of movies I could have listed here, and lists like this are fluid. It might change in a month or a year. However, these are the films that right now give me the greatest amount of pleasure, the ones if they’re on TV I’ll stop and watch or the ones I will immediately buy on DVD.
If someone reads this list and takes a chance on one of my recommendations, let me know. If I do say so myself, I think almost all the titles here will result in a most enjoyable viewing experience.
Here we go:
“Girl Shy” (1924). Since Harold Lloyd is one of my favorite comic actors of all time, I had to include a Harold Lloyd movie. But which one? Probably his most famous is “Safety Last” (1923), with its famous image of Harold dangling from clock hands high up in the air. I also adore “The Freshman” (1925),where Harold tries so very hard to fit in with his new college. But “Girl Shy” was the first Lloyd I ever saw and it made me an instant fan. The chase scene here is amazing; Lloyd gave us the most hair-raising chase scenes up until “Bullitt” (1968) and “The French Connection” (1971). And surely I’m not the only one who doesn’t think of the conclusion of “The Graduate” (1967) at the climax here.
“Sunrise” (1927). Probably my favorite silent film and one of the greatest movies ever made. Directed by the great F.W. Murnau, “Sunrise” won a special Oscar for “Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production.” It could be the most appropriate Oscar ever awarded. A young couple (Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien) live an idyllic life in the country until when he’s seduced by a city girl (Margaret Livingston), and they plan on killing Gaynor. I don’t want to give the rest away, but please, please see it for yourself. If there’s one movie out of this 100 you should see, it’s this one. Full of breathtaking imagery and some of the greatest camerawork ever produced. A transcendent experience.
“Dracula” (1931). Bela Lugosi’s Dracula remains one of the great cultural icons of all time. The first reel set at Dracula’s castle is the best, and remains unsettling today. It gets stagy after that, and the acting is a bit theatrical, but Lugosi’s presence forgives all. What’s interesting about the early sound horror films are how unforgettable the imagery remains. They’re like living mythic folklore, always living just inside our unconscious.
"Frankenstein” (1931). Another great early talking horror movie, and everything I said about Lugosi’s performance above is echoed in Boris Karloff’s performance here. “Frankenstein” is a better film than “Dracula” because James Whale is a better director than Tod Browning. I adore Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” (1974), but I wonder if it’s tainted contemporary audiences to the first three Universal Frankenstein movies. And that’s a shame.
“Love Me Tonight” (1932). The most ideal Ernst Lubitsch film that wasn’t directed by Lubitsch. Here it’s Rouben Mamoulian handing the directing duties and it’s pure joy from beginning to end. The Rodgers and Hart song score can’t be beat, and the treatment of the song “Isn’t It Romantic” is one of the greatest musical numbers ever, starting with Maurice Chevalier singing it at a room in an inn, taken up by various passerby until Jeanette MacDonald picks it up miles away, singing it at her castle apartment. Thus, the two future lovers have been linked even before they met. Five years after sound came in, directors were much more comfortable with the medium, and Mamoulian’s use of sound here is infectious. It’s as if he can’t believe the freedom he’s gained from a soundtrack. And it’s pretty darn funny too, with great support from Myrna Loy, Charles Ruggles, Charles Butterworth and the incomparable C. Aubrey Smith.
“The Mummy” (1932). More Universal horror, with Boris Karloff delivering one of his greatest performances as Im-Ho-Tep, awakened after 2,000 years to look for his lost love, found in the reincarnated person of Zita Johann. There’s a haunting romantic mood to this movie which is indescribable. The opening sequence with the Mummy’s resurrection is one of the greatest set pieces in horror movie history.
“Trouble in Paradise” (1932). Lubitsch at his most sublime, a romantic tale of elegant con artists and their romantic complications, set in Europe. I want to live in this movie, and be as witty as the characters are here. I want Heaven to be like 1932 Europe as devised by Paramount’s set designers. I even liked Miriam Hopkins, and she’s one of my least favorite leading ladies of the era. And how can you not adore a movie where Edward Everett Horton and Charlie Ruggles are romantic rivals?
“Duck Soup” (1933). Perhaps the Marx Bros.’ greatest achievement, and its jabs at the absurdity of war are spot-on today. The Marxes will never date. The mirror scene here makes me laugh so hard I literally can’t breathe.
“Footlight Parade” (1933). It was hard to pick a favorite Busby Berkeley picture, but I had to go with this one, because I’m such a huge James Cagney fan. But the film is a lot of great Pre-Code fun, with zesty mile-a-minute dialogue. The film ends with three giant musical numbers all in a row and one tops the other. No matter how times I’ve seen it “By a Waterfall” astounds with its creativity and the “Honeymoon Hotel” number is gloriously perverted in the best Pre-Code fashion. Love that leering midget, a holdover from the “Pettin’ in the Park” number from Berkeley’s previous “Gold Diggers of 1933.”
“Sons of the Desert”. Picking one Laurel and Hardy movie is as hard as picking one Harold Lloyd title. I was torn between this one and “Way Out West” (1937), but this one won by a hair. Stan and Ollie fake illness to avoid a vacation with the wives so they can attend the annual convention of their lodge, the Sons of the Desert. The timing of slapstick is impeccable here, and I love the sequence where the wives are sitting in a movie theater and a newsreel comes on with footage of the Sons of the Desert convention, with Stan and Ollie mugging shamelessly to the camera. I never get tired of this movie.