Right Opinion

Going to the Movies

Burt Prelutsky · Nov. 18, 2017

Because many of you know that I have been watching movies for over 70 years, and spent a dozen of those years working as a movie reviewer, I am often asked to name the all-time greats. I prefer to name my favorites because once you start talking about “great” films, you find that most critics wind up listing movies that may have been historically or cinematically important but which I would never sit through again, not even on a double-dare.

When people start compiling lists of great movies, they tend to mention the likes of “Intolerance,” “Birth of a Nation,” “The Battleship Potemkin,” “Triumph of the Will,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Rashomon,” “Dr. Zhivago,” “The 10 Commandments,” “The Searchers,” “Olympiad” and “Rules of the Game,” movies that worked on me the way that sleeping pills work on others. They can even put my teeth to sleep.

Instead, I prefer to think of my favorite movies, none of which are likely to make it on any critic’s list of the 100 Greatest except for perhaps “Citizen Kane,” “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “All About Eve” and “Sunset Blvd.”

My list consists of movies that have maintained their hold on me despite the passage of years and repeated viewings. I have tried to limit my selections to my two favorites of each year, most of which I assume you have heard or seen, and, in a few cases, an additional title or two you may be unaware of, unless, like me, you have spent too much time in the dark, watching shadows on the screen.

There were some years, especially in the recent past, when I couldn’t come up with even a single selection. I don’t know if that says more about me or the movies.

Prior to 1934, my favorites were Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” and “The Guardsman,” which boasts one of the funniest performances I’ve ever seen, delivered by Alfred Lunt.

  • (1934) “It Happened One Night” (Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert) and “Sons of the Desert” (Laurel & Hardy).

  • (1935) “The 39 Steps” (Robert Donat) and “Alice Adams” (Katharine Hepburn, Fred MacMurray).

  • (1936) “My Man Godfrey” (William Powell, Carole Lombard) and “Modern Times” (Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard).

  • (1937) “Nothing Sacred” (Fredric March, Carole Lombard) and “Make Way for Tomorrow” (Victor Moore, Beulah Bondi).

  • (1938) “Pygmalion” (Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller) and “Carefree” (Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers).

  • (1939) “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur), “The Wizard of Oz” (Judy Garland, Frank Morgan), “Bachelor Mother” (Ginger Rogers, David Niven) and “Destry Rides Again” (Jimmy Stewart, Marlene Dietrich).

  • (1940) “The Shop Around the Corner” (Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullavan), “My Favorite Wife” (Cary Grant, Irene Dunne) and “The Thief of Baghdad” (Sabu, John Justin).

  • (1941) “Citizen Kane” (Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten), “The Lady Eve” (Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda), “The Maltese Falcon” (Humphrey Bogart), “Ball of Fire” (Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper) and “The Devil & Miss Jones” (Jean Arthur, Robert Cummings).

  • (1942) “The Gold Rush” (Charlie Chaplin), “The Major & the Minor” (Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland), “The Palm Beach Story” (Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea), “Woman of the Year” (Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn) and “The Glass Key” (Alan Ladd, Brian Donlevy).

  • (1943) “The More the Merrier” (Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea), “Casablanca” (Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman) and “Shadow of a Doubt” (Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright).

  • (1944) “Hail the Conquering Hero” (Eddie Bracken, Ella Raines), “Meet Me in St. Louis” (Judy Garland), “Double Indemnity” (Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray), “Laura” (Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney) and “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek” (Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton).

  • (1945) “Mildred Pierce” (Joan Crawford) and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (James Dunn, Dorothy McGuire).

  • (1946) “It’s a Wonderful Life” (Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed), “The Best Years of Our Lives” (Fredric March, Myrna Loy) and “Stairway to Heaven” (David Niven, Kim Hunter).

  • (1947) “Miracle on 34th Street” (Edmund Gwenn) and “The Farmer’s Daughter” (Loretta Young, Joseph Cotten).

  • (1948) “I Remember Mama” (Irene Dunne, Oscar Homolka), “A Foreign Affair” (Jean Arthur, John Lund), “An Apartment for Peggy” (Jeanne Crain, Edmund Gwenn) and “Force of Evil” (John Garfield).

  • (1949) “The Heiress” (Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift), “All the King’s Men” (Broderick Crawford, Joanne Dru) and “House of Strangers” (Richard Conte, Edward G. Robinson).

  • (1950): “All About Eve” (Bette Davis, Anne Baxter) and “Sunset Blvd.” (William Holden, Gloria Swanson).

  • (1951) “The African Queen” (Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn) and “People Will Talk” (Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain).

  • (1952) “High Noon” (Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly) and “The Quiet Man” (John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara).

  • (1953) “Shane” (Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur) and “Roman Holiday” (Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn).

  • (1954) “On the Waterfront” (Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint) and “7 Brides for 7 Brothers” (Howard Keel, Jane Powell).

  • (1955) “Marty” (Ernest Borgnine, Betsy Blair) and “Ladykillers” (Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers).

  • (1956) “The Rainmaker” (Burt Lancaster, Katherine Hepburn) and “The Killing” (Sterling Hayden, Marie Windsor).

  • (1957) “The Sweet Smell of Success” (Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis) and “Bridge on the River Kwai” (Alec Guinness, William Holden).

  • (1958) “The Horse’s Mouth” (Alec Guinness) and “Indiscreet” (Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman).

  • (1959) “Some Like It Hot” (Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis) and “North by Northwest” (Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint).

  • (1960) “The Apartment” (Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine), “Wild River” (Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick) and “School for Scoundrels” (Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas).

  • (1961) “The Hustler” (Paul Newman, George C. Scott).

  • (1962) “The Miracle Worker” (Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke) and “Lolita” (James Mason, Peter Sellers).

  • (1963) “Charade” (Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn).

  • (1964) “My Fair Lady” (Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn), “The World of Henry Orient” (Peter Sellers, Paula Prentiss) and “The Pumpkin Eater” (Anne Bancroft, Peter Finch).

  • (1966) “Alfie” (Michael Caine, Shelley Winters) and “Georgy Girl” (Lynn Redgrave, James Mason).

  • (1967) “Divorce, American Style” (Dick Van Dyke, Jason Robards) and “Two for the Road” (Audrey Hepburn, Albert Finney).

  • (1968) “The Odd Couple” (Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau) and “Oliver!” (Ron Moody, Oliver Reed).

  • (1969) “Support Your Local Sheriff” (James Garner, Joan Hackett) and “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” (Paul Newman, Robert Redford).

  • (1970) “Patton” (George C. Scott, Karl Malden) and “The Out-of-Towners” (Jack Lemmon, Sandy Dennis).

  • (1971) “A New Leaf” (Elaine May, Walter Matthau) and “The French Connection” (Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider).

  • (1972) “The Godfather” (Marlon Brando, Al Pacino) and “The Heartbreak Kid” (Charles Grodin, Eddie Albert).

  • (1973) “Paper Moon” (Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal) and “The Sting” (Paul Newman, Robert Redford).

  • (1974) “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” (Richard Dreyfuss, Joseph Wiseman).

  • (1976) “Rocky” (Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire).

  • (1977) “The Goodbye Girl” (Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason).

  • (1978) “House Calls” (Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson).

  • (1979) “Breaking Away” (Dennis Christopher) and “The In-Laws” (Peter Falk, Alan Arkin).

  • (1982) “Diner” (Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon).

  • (1983) “Tender Mercies” (Robert Duvall, Tess Harper), “The Man with Two Brains” (Steve Martin, Kathleen Turner) and “A Christmas Story” (Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin).

  • (1984) “Broadway Danny Rose” (Woody Allen, Mia Farrow) and “The Natural” (Robert Redford, Glenn Close).

  • (1985) “Murphy’s Romance” (James Garner, Sally Field), “Witness” (Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis) and “Back to the Future” (Michael J. Fox).

  • (1986) “Hoosiers” (Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey) and “Hannah & Her Sisters” (Woody Allen, Mia Farrow).

  • (1987) “The Princess Bride” (Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin), “The Untouchables” (Kevin Costner, Sean Connery), “Moonstruck” (Cher, Nicolas Cage) and “Tin Man” (Richard Dreyfuss, Danny DeVito).

  • (1988) “Midnight Run” (Charles Grodin, Robert DeNiro), “Die Hard” (Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman), “Crossing Delancey” (Peter Riegert, Amy Irving) and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (Robert Hoskins).

  • (1989) “Field of Dreams” (Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones) and “The Tall Guy” (Jeff Goldblum, Emma Thompson).

  • (1990) “Green Card” (Gerard Depardieu, Andie McDowell), “Cinema Paradiso” (Philippe Noiret) and “Quigley Down Under” (Tom Selleck, Alan Rickman).

  • (1991) “Defending Your Life” (Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep), “Dead Again” (Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson) and “Silence of the Lambs” (Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster).

  • (1992) “My Cousin Vinny” (Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei), “Enchanted April” (Miranda Richardson, Alfred Molina), “Housesitter” (Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn) and “Peter’s Friends” (Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson).

  • (1993) “Remains of the Day” (Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson), “The Fugitive” (Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones), “Groundhog Day” (Bill Murray, Andie McDowell) and “Falling Down” (Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall).

  • (1994) “Nobody’s Fool” (Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy) and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (Hugh Grant, Andie McDowell).

  • (1995) “Sense & Sensibility” (Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman) and “A Family Thing” (Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones).

  • (1996) “Swingers” (Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn) and “Fargo” (Frances McDormand, William Macy).

  • (1997) “L.A. Confidential” (Russell Crowe, Danny DeVito) and “Grosse Pointe Blank” (John Cusack, Minnie Driver).

  • (1998) “Sliding Doors” (Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah) and “Life is Beautiful” (Roberto Benigni).

  • (1999) “Election” (Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon), “An Ideal Husband” (Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore) and “Mumford” (Loren Dean, Hope Davis).

  • (2000) “You Can Count on Me” (Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo) and “Meet the Parents” (Ben Stiller, Robert DeNiro).

  • (2001) “Iris” (Judi Densch, James Broadbent") and “The Dish” (Sam O'Neill).

  • (2002) “About a Boy” (Hugh Grant, Rachel Weisz) and “Chicago” (Richard Gere, Reese Witherspoon).

  • (2003) “Love, Actually” (Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson).

  • (2005) “The Upside of Anger” (Kevin Costner, Joan Allen), “The Matador” (Pierce Brosnan) and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (Robert Downey, Val Kilmer).

  • (2006) “Thank You for Smoking” (Aaron Eckhart) and “Nanny McPhee” (Emma Thompson).

  • (2008) “Gran Torino” (Clint Eastwood) and “Taken” (Liam Neeson).

  • (2009) “The Blind Side” (Sandra Bullock).

  • (2010) “The King’s Speech” (Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush).

  • (2011) “The Artist” (Jean Dujardin) and “Bridesmaids” (Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy).

  • (2012) “Silver Linings Playbook” (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence).

  • (2014) “The Imitation Game” (Benedict Cumberbatch).

  • (2015) “The Woman in Gold” (Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds).

  • (2016) “Florence Foster Jenkins” (Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant).

That adds up to 171 movies, roughly 80 of them comedies. I don’t expect anyone is going to like the same movies I do, but I don’t think anyone is likely to hate any of them. And how likely it is that you can say that about any list of 171 movies?

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