One time, a friend of ours got a meme or whatever you’d call it where he listed 100 favorite films. I showed it to Barb, and next thing you know, she couldn’t help but run off and start listing things herself…
IN THE PRESENT, THOUGH, Barb says: “Oh WOW, I was such a different person when I made this list years and years ago! I’m going to go write a new version of this list right now!”
Anyway, since we’re also discussing creative CRAFT in these articles, we’ve also added CRAFT sections under each film or two, to help you think about what can be learned from these movies…
Barb’s Favorite Films (from years ago) (PART ONE), In No Particular Order
Not a Top 100 List (close but no cigar), just films I like.
As anyone interested can see from the (first one-third of the) list below, I like comedies, film noir, and horror best. Weirdness, creativity, a certain degree of cynicism, characterization, and intelligence are all things I’m a sucker for. I also have a slightly secret sweet tooth for Hollywood soap operas, goofy bits of pop culture, and good all-ages films.
—His Girl Friday
The best screwball comedy ever made. My favorite film and one of my biggest influences as a writer.
CRAFT: Also one of the best beginnings of a film. The scene when Hildy comes back and is talking in Walter’s office is fantastic. Look how fast they talk! Look how they talk over each other sometimes, like real people sometimes do in real life! Park and I often watch movies online at 1.2 speed or 1.5 speed, but His Girl Friday is good at normal speed.
Sex, drugs, rock and roll, magik, mob violence, Memo from Turner…what’s not to love? My other favorite film and one of my biggest influences as a writer.
CRAFT: What should we think of the ending? How should we feel about it?
–All This And Heaven Too
Yeah, I know, soap operas. But I love Bette Davis films, so sue me.
CRAFT: Look at how both films deal with narcissistic personalities (mothers, in both cases)…
—My Man Godfrey
William Powell is a comedic genius, matched wit for wit by his ex-wife, Carole Lombard.
CRAFT: Look how fast they talk! Look at how Godfrey changes the lives of the people in the house, and why!
Psychological Drama that feels like a horror film. Atmosphere bounds.
CRAFT: Look at how power works in this relationship!
—The Haunting (the original version)
A horror film for adults. Very smart, very creepy.
CRAFT: Look at how the house manipulates these people…
Another horror film for adults. Also very smart, very creepy…and a big influence on Asian horror films (of which I am also a big fan)
CRAFT: Look at how this film deals with grief. In this century, every other horror movie claims that it’s about grief, but it’s often a hollow claim. This guy, he’s dealing with grief.
My favorite Asian horror film. It’s been poorly marketed as Asia’s answer to The Sixth Sense, but its closest relative is Stir of Echoes (which just missed being on my fave movies list).
CRAFT: Is the protagonist haunted by a real ghost? Or is it JUST his grief and guilt? Are we even supposed to be able to decide?
—The Producers (original version)
The best-written-and-acted first twenty minutes of comedy that I’ve ever seen. The rest is pretty darned funny, too.
CRAFT: Look at the speed! Look at the pacing! Look at the relationship between Leo and Max! Also: what does it mean that “Leo Bloom” is also the name of the fictional protagonist and hero of James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses?
—Gods and Monsters
Really just a two-character sketch, but when one of the characters is Sir Ian doing Frankenstein director James Whale, that’s reason enough to love this film.
CRAFT: One character is very gay, and the other is very straight, but they develop a friendship without the straight one ignoring that fact– it’s unignorable, it’s too much a part of who his friend is. This happens so rarely in English-language stories it’s amazing to see it done well.
—My Neighbor Totoro
Heck, it could be just about any Miyazaki film. They’re almost all classics.
CRAFT: What is this film saying about childhood? About parenting? About the fear that something might happen to a loved one? About magic? About the sacred?
It doesn’t get much more hardboiled than this.
CRAFT: Think about what makes Carter so different from everyone else around him. What does this film say about concepts of masculinity? What are we supposed to think of that, in the end?
–The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Oh, sure, there are better film noirs, but few that are crazier or more sexually, um, deviant? Weird? Absolutely dedicated to linking sex and death? Love the gun as phallic symbol ending. Martha might be crazy, but she’s the one who pulls the trigger, let us say…
CRAFT: Look at the acting! Her! Our hero! Kirk Douglas! Playing the weakest man he’ll ever play! (And yet!) I can even put up with Lizabeth Scott’s acting here! What does this film say about the past? About how childhood shapes us?
—Rock and Roll High School
—School of Rock
Two films that totally capture what it means to love rock and roll.
CRAFT: What do these films say about rebellion? About being young? About music?
—Time After Time
David Warner finally gets a role he can sink his teeth into. A truly great adventure film.
CRAFT: What does this film say about the twentieth century? Look at the romance in this film! Look at the craft of how it makes us love these two people!
—Brimstone and Treacle
I love British weirdness. Let’s leave it at that.
CRAFT: Good lord, think about what this film is saying about religion, about the devil, about evil!
—Les Diaboliques (aka Diabolique)
Suspenseful– and dark suspense, with a ghost story hint at the end, just the way I like ’em.
CRAFT: What are we supposed to think about the end of this film?
—The Lady Vanishes
Hitchcock’s most fun and perhaps best British suspense film.
CRAFT: Look at the craft of how Hitch stretches the situation out as long as possible!
More British weirdness. If only Clockwork Orange had looked like this instead of that plastic science fiction look…
CRAFT: What does this movie say about rebellion? About violence? About England? England, what’s wrong with you? And why are you still messed-up after this movie pointed it out? (Not that America doesn’t have at least as many problems, but come on!)
—Quatermass and The Pit
Nigel Kneale was a god amongst script writers. Science fiction that feels like horror. Smart and imaginative. His work is an inspiration to me.
CRAFT: What is this movie saying about fear? What is it saying about the way human brains are wired? Are we just a jumble of chemical impulses? What is free will?
Clifton Webb is magnificent.
CRAFT: How sympathetic are we supposed to find Waldo? How sympathetic are we supposed to find Mark? Did the movie mean me to have the reactions I have to each man? (The answers to these questions may raise more questions about me than about this film, it’s true.)
–The Manchurian Candidate (original version)
Lawrence Harvey’s finest hour as an actor. Maybe Frank Sinatra’s too. Whenever this film comes on, I can’t keep my eyes off of it. Complex, smart, weird, and scary films do it for me every time.
CRAFT: What does this movie say about politics in the twentieth century– and about the twentieth century in general?
—Night of the Hunter
American noir weirdness. Preacher Powell is as scary as any movie monster.
CRAFT: What is evil? What are we to make about the scene when they’re both singing in the night? What does that scene say about religion, about evil, about the devil?
—Singin’ In The Rain
Hilarious. Great dancing, great acting, great songs, great singing. Almost perfect, although I can live a happy life without ever seeing the “Gotta Dance” sequence again.
CRAFT: Look the craft of this! Okay, ignore the fashion show sequence, that was a mistake. But look at the craft of the rest of it! Yes, the dancing, but the writing! Don Lockwood makes a little speech and we have flashbacks that undercut everything he’s saying, but we just love him more. There’s a lot more to be said about the craft of this film…
—The Late Show
A ’70s neo-noir classic that is often sadly overlooked by critics, perhaps because it’s a sad goodbye letter to noir, a reminder that we really can’t “make ’em like they used to”.
CRAFT: Look at how and why we like these two protagonists in spite of their flaws! Look at how this man and this woman have an increasingly-strong connection and there’s hardly a hint of the sexual brought into that! Do you understand how rare that is?! Like Singin’ In The Rain, there’s a lot more to be said about the craft of this film…!
—The Lady Eve
—Ball of Fire
Both films star a joy named Barbara. Two whipsmart comedies by two of the best directors in the business.
CRAFT: Look at the little touches. Look at how the writer/director understands how to keep something funny yet touching. Look how human emotions are involved– in each case, the potential crime elements are just there as an excuse to have a movie about the relationships.
—High and Low
Japanese film noir. Tough and tender, terribly suspenseful.
CRAFT: What does this film say about modern society, and corruption?
—In A Lonely Place
Just about the saddest film noir ever.
CRAFT: Very different from the book. Look at how the director ratchets up the tension to make you anxious without driving you away.
–My Favorite Year
A pleasure named O’Toole.
CRAFT: Look at how and why the young guy believes in this older actor. He’s his hero! What does it mean to be regarded as a hero– to one person, or to a lot of people? How does this movie talk about what it means to feel you should try to live up to someone else’s ideal?
–Toy Story II
Heck, it could be just about any classic Pixar film: Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo. I just picked this one because it has my gal Joan Cusack in it. She’s one funny lady.
CRAFT: Look at how the story shifts mood, and when, and why… but especially how. Listen to how the soundtrack helps with that. Look at Jesse’s character as a portrayal of someone with PTSD.
In the near future: the next installment, with 33 more films!