Any list like the 1001 Movies that claims to be definitive, by definition, is not definitive. It’s the nature of the beast. Everyone has a favorite movie or two that doesn’t make the list, and virtually every film on the list will have its detractors.
That goes without saying. I understand that, and while there are likely several hundred movies I could think of that I’d put on this list, I also understand that that’s reflective of my own personal bias. So, while I love films like Tremors and Slither, I also am fully aware as to why they didn’t show up on this list. I have a personal attachment to plenty of films that if I’m objective about things, I understand don’t belong anywhere within 100 feet of this list.
With any list like this, the temptation is always there to prove just how clever you are, and this list does have a number of entries that I find difficult to explain any other way. There are several films on this that smack of “I’ve seen obscure footage from Tanzania, and I’m including it here to show you how much I know.” I’ve got to track down Hold Me While I’m Naked and Korkarlen instead of watching something like Inherit the Wind or Field of Dreams.
I could easily come up with a few hundred films that I think have a legitimate shot at being on this list. But that could take forever, and would sound too much like sour grapes. I’ve limited myself to a spare 25 films that I believe are worthy of consideration for future volumes. Here they are, in no particular order:
1) The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—It’s shocking to me that Rudolph Valentino, the first real screen idol, doesn’t appear anywhere in the 1001 films. This is his most iconic role and the one that made him a star, probably for the sexy close-ups and the dancing sequence. Valentino needs to be on this list, and this is the best choice.
2) Safety Last!—It’s great that, unlike Valentino, Harold Lloyd is on the list, but the exclusion of this film is damn near criminal. Aside from Chaplin’s Tramp, there is no more well-known still from the silent era than Lloyd hanging off a clock in this film. It’s funny and the stunts still hold up 90 years after the film was created.
3) 12 Monkeys—La Jette, the film that inspired 12 Monkeys is on the list, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why this one isn’t. Complex and beautiful, this is one of the movies that proved Brad Pitt can act, and that Bruce Willis can act as well. As visionary a dystopia as Gilliam’s Brazil and far more accessible.
4) Leon The Professional—A touching film about an assassin, Leon is one of my favorite characters ever in a movie. It’s also the first real role for Natalie Portman, and features Gary Oldman as possibly the most corrupt law enforcement officer ever. A heartwrenching and gorgeous film that should have more people watching it.
5) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan—Star Trek is one of America’s greatest culture exports, and Khan is hands-down the best of the Trek films.
6) A Few Good Men—Seriously, how many movie quotes are more memorable than, “You can’t handle the truth!” A fantastic film from start to finish, with an underrated performance by Kevin Pollack.
7) Mister Roberts—A war movie without war and with a truly stellar cast. James Cagney as Captain Morton is arguably the most hateful little martinet ever in film, but the real prize is Jack Lemmon as Ensign Pulver. You’ll never look at a potted plant the same way again.
8) Tron—I still can’t believe this isn’t on the list. Of all of these, in many ways this one bothers me the most. If a plotless piece of garbage like Independence Day gets on because of the awesome special effects, then a far better movie with just as groundbreaking effects should be on the list as well. A tragic miss by the compilers of this volume.
9) Evil Dead II—I love that The Evil Dead makes the list, but the sequel is its superior in all respects. Bloodier, funnier, gorier, it’s more a remake than a sequel, and it’s just as much a tribute to Moe, Larry, and Curly as it is a horror film. And speaking of sequels…
10) The Road Warrior—Again, this film is far better than its predecessor (Mad Max) in every respect. The wardrobe is iconic enough that other post-apocalyptic films are still compared with it, and there has never been a greater chase scene filmed than the last 20 minutes or so of this one.
11) Blood Simple—A complex film from the Coen brothers at the very start of their career. I am admittedly a Coen fan (although I’m leaving The Hudsucker Proxy off this list), which does taint my opinion here, but regardless of that, Blood Simple is tense, riveting, and wonderfully filmed.
12) Ed Wood—Perhaps the greatest bio film ever (and I’m including Gandhi and Lawrence of Arabia), and just as much a love song to film itself as an endearing look at a schlub who deserved better.
13) Scanners—If Videodrome is here, if Naked Lunch is here, so should this. I saw this movie referenced on The Colbert Report just a couple of weeks ago—it’s still that well known and well loved.
14) El Mariachi—Go look into the history of how this film was created—the extremes that Robert Rodriguez went through to generate the money to make the film. The guy couldn’t afford a shoestring budget, and he made one of the greatest revenge pictures ever.
15) The Incredibles—With this film, Pixar did something impossible: they created a perfect children’s movie that is equally entertaining for adults. It’s exciting and fun and funny and scary and never panders to a younger audience, rarely talks over their heads. Kids and adults laugh at the same stuff, often for the same reasons. Even better, the depiction of the family life of the Parrs makes them perhaps the most realistic family in film of the last 10 years. Director Brad Bird was doubly-shafted here, since his brilliant The Iron Giant didn’t make it, either.
16) Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—Gutsy, interesting, and thought provoking, this film created a real dialogue about race relations. A smart film, and still relevant.
17) Shaun of the Dead—While I personally like Hot Fuzz better, this is perhaps the greatest real parody since Airplane! Filmmakers who produce what passes for parody these days need to sit down and take a lesson from Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. And speaking of zombies…
18) …28 Days Later—This film single-handedly rewrote the zombie genre by make the zombies fast as hell and not really dead. One of my all time favorite movies, it still scares me after a dozen watches. And speaking of personal favorites…
19) The Devil’s Backbone—Guillermo del Toro got tons of deserved praise for Pan’s Labyrinth, but this one slipped under most people’s radar. I prefer this movie. The costuming and effects aren’t as good, but the story is better. This is a magical film that should be required viewing (as should the del Toro-produced El Orfanto).
20) Stalag 17—I used to wonder how someone could have possibly pitched the television show Hogan’s Heroes with a straight face. Then I saw this movie, and realized the pitch was “Stalag 17 without the insufferable bastard as a main character and focused more on the comic relief characters.” William Holden plays one of the greatest anti-heroes ever conceived.
21) Marathon Man—I don’t understand why this film never gets any love on lists like this. Dr. Szell is still one of the most terrifying movie creations ever. A nerve-wracking thriller with a torture scene that directors of films like Saw should be forced to watch. Only Misery’s hobbling scene (which should also be here) can top this level of viewer agony.
22) The Man with the Golden Arm—There was a time when Frank Sinatra cared about the roles he took, and this movie is the proof. One of Preminger’s best, and a movie that showed a lot of courage concerning its subject matter at the time in which it was made. Anything this gutsy deserves consideration.
23) Animal House—Really? Not on the list? The quintessential college comedy, and the first and best of the movies from former Saturday Night Live alums, this movie should be seen by everyone, as should…
24) Caddyshack—If you don’t laugh when watching this movie, you should check yourself for a pulse. Period.
25) Bullitt—If you like car chases, you owe this movie a debt of gratitude. The scene may not hold up compared with modern chases, but modern chases wouldn’t be what they are without Frank Bullitt. Neither would Popeye Doyle or Harry Callahan. The renegade cop on the loose started here, and has still never been equaled in terms of character.
So with that out of the way, let’s get rolling.