zerode – a sensibility


film, music, text, city, spectacle, pleasure

More on “Must See” Movies – including those of a “Rightwing Film Geek”

I’m been mulling over this issue of “must see” movie lists since posting on it last week. Obviously, it’s not the first time I’ve thought about it. I’ve had many discussions about such lists over the years – it’s pretty much a standard topic when film buffs are hanging out.  Usually in a more restricted form though – such as, must see Hong Kong movies or Westerns.

Henry Fonda in John Ford's My Darling Clementine

Early last week, someone asked me what I thought were the five best movies ever, and I was still trying to come up with an answer a few days later when I stumbled across the list on The Hal Blog, so I’ve been thinking a lot since then about this notion of what I would consider “must see” movies in a global sense, rather than for this or that genre, a particular director or the current year.

(By the way, as part of that thinking process, I spent some more time going through the Hal Blog list and I owe the creators an apology. There are many more Japanese films than I noticed initially; I might still quibble here or there – more Mizoguchi, say, and no Miike – but I clearly made a real mistake in singling out this genre/area for criticism in my original discussion. It actually looks like one of the most comprehensively and intelligently covered national cinemas in their list. My bad.)

Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953)

But thinking about the sub-set of their list that was “must see Japanese movies” and working on my own list raised for me interesting questions about the nature and character of “must see” lists. The Hal Blog list apparently has as its aim to “do justice to the art and entertainment of cinema” – which is obviously a laudable goal. In working on my own list, however, I realized that there were movies I considered “must see” Westerns and Musicals – to take just two examples – that I did not think necessarily merited inclusion on a list devoted to the best of cinema, or at least not a list of any kind of reasonable length.

So the starting point for any list of “must see” movies has to be that issue of scope: must see movies of any kind, or for a particular national cinema or genre, etc.

The mention of “the art…of cinema” by the Hal Blog also raises, for me, the question of experimental, avant-garde and art cinema. I don’t know those films or that history well, and I can’t say it is a film-going experience I generally seek out. I’m more likely to be found at a monster movie marathon or a double bill of Singin in the Rain and An American in Paris. But it is nonetheless an important part of “the art…of cinema” (and not without influence on the more “entertainment” parts); it’s just not a part I know well enough to address adequately in any list of “must sees” or important films.

Finally, working on my own lists – plural, as I had to do it by genres and national cinemas, at least as a way to start on something more overarching – I was confronted by the difference – at least for me – between “must see” movies and favorite movies. There are a lot of movies I love, but which I recognize are not classics or “must sees” in a more general sense – which I would not even necessarily recommend to someone else. Idiosyncratic picks.

I genuinely love Lake Placid, about which I wrote a couple of weeks ago, and I think it’s got something fresh and interesting going on in its hybridization of monster movie and romantic comedy – and Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson are great fun in it. But Roger Ebert really didn’t like this movie, and I’ve seldom found any other adult who enjoys it as much as me. Teenage boys seem to enjoy it, though – and perhaps that says something about my tastes that I should take under advisement.

Less problematically, How To Steal A Million, with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole is one of my favorite films. But I don’t think I have ever seen it on anyone else’s “must see” list or on any round-up of “best films” – despite the presence of two important and hugely popular actors. Still, I love it unreservedly:

But while I do love it, and would be surprised if you didn’t, I’m not sure I could in good conscience include it, much less Lake Placid – or a whole host of other movies I love – on my “must see” list. So I added a separate section, for “Favorites and Guilty Pleasures.”  I suspect that this section will end up saying a great deal more about me than the rest of the list, which so far is looking very much like a case of “rounding up the usual suspects.” But we’ll see…

As part of working up my own lists, I’ve been looking around at other lists in addition to the ones from The Hal Blog, both well-known or “official” lists – such as the NY Times Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made and the AFI’s 100 YEARS lists – and other lists by bloggers and film buffs on the interweb.

One film buff I stumbled across in my research with a particularly extensive and interesting list was Rightwing Film Geek, who describes his/her blog as

Reviews and thoughts about the films of the cinema from an American conservative whose favorite Austrian film artist is Michael Haneke rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger. (via About « Rightwing Film Geek.)

Rightwing Film Geek has a list with his/her top 10 films for EVERY year back to 1920. Oddly, it never occurred to me to approach the lists chronologically rather than by genre, but it’s definitely a useful approach. And the list is an impressive achievement, both in terms of scope and also for the quality and intelligence of the picks. I’m more of a leftwing film geek, and my initial impulse was to steer clear, given the obvious ideological clash, but while we might not agree on social or political issues, we seem to be well-matched when it comes to movies.

Here’s Rightwing Film Geek‘s picks for 1963:

1. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, Italy)
2. Billy Liar (John Schlesinger, Britain)
3. The Bakery Girl of Monceau (Eric Rohmer, France)
4. High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, Japan)
5. The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, Italy)
6. The Servant (Joseph Losey, Britain)
7. The Great Escape (John Sturges, USA)
8. An Actor’s Revenge (Kon Ichikawa, Japan)
9. The Pink Panther (Blake Edwards, USA)
10. Le Petit Soldat (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
Honorable Mentions: The List of Adrian Messenger (John Huston, USA); Tom Jones (Tony Richardson, Britain); The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, USA); Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Vittorio De Sica, Italy); Hud (Martin Ritt, USA); From Russia with Love (Terence Young, Britain) (via Past Top 10s « Rightwing Film Geek.)

I was pleased to see An Actor’s Revenge and The Pink Panther in the top 10, and the James Bond film From Russian with Love as an honorable mention – movies I like, but hadn’t even considered for my “must see” lists. Perhaps I should be more bold and idiosyncratic in my picks…

For more…

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows


is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

tweeting my mind



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