As we spend lots of time at home in "self-isolation," thoughts turn to movies we would take with us into a bunker or to a deserted island.
A recent article by Gina Barreca in The Hartford Courant (also published in the Democrat-Gazette) asked that question with a certain twist, emphasizing that her choices were "not necessarily the best films ever made in the history of cinema," just her "best and most watchable friends."
This clarifies things somewhat when it comes to such lists, since it suggests that the criteria would be not just the movies we could stand to watch over and over again (because we already do), but also those we would least want to do forever without.
Barreca's list was limited to 10 movies; mine weasels out a bit with 12:
• "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." Quentin Tarantino's favorite film (and one from which he has cribbed continually) is the last and best of Sergio Leone's "spaghetti western" trilogy.
I still remember a Saturday in college sacked out and hungover with buddies watching these movies in a viewing marathon.
A snippet from Ennio Morricone's score even became my ring tone.
• "The Godfather." If you begin watching it at any point, you don't stop until it's over because every scene is absorbing, every character interesting.
We hear a lot about the great American novel, but this is the great American movie, because it tells us so much about America.
• "Casablanca." Who could imagine a life without Bogart on the widescreen? Or never being able to hear "Play it, Sam," "Round up the usual suspects," and "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" again.
• "Animal House." You would need to keep a sense of humor if you were stuck in a bunker or stranded on a deserted island, and nothing would provide more of it than Bluto, Otter and Delta House.
• "Goldfinger." Daniel Craig is passable, but Sean Connery will always be Bond, James Bond.
This could just as easily have been "Dr. No, From Russia with Love," or "Thunderball," but here we get the best villain, the girl painted gold, Shirley Bassey, and the coolest car in the history of movies (excepting perhaps Steve McQueen's Mustang in "Bullitt").
• "Rear Window." I once took a college course on Hitchcock just so I could watch my favorite director's movies for free, exams and papers be damned.
As with the Bond films, any number of others might have served here, especially "Vertigo," "Shadow of a Doubt," or "North by Northwest," but "Rear Window" has always seemed the quintessential Hitchcock, so perfectly and seamlessly constructed and set entirely inside one apartment looking out.
• "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." The fates of Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) signal the fading of the wild West as civilization arrives (in the form of Jimmy Stewart's "pilgrim" and his law books), a theme also wonderfully captured in Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" and Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch."
It seems to have aged better than another John Ford-John Wayne favorite, "The Searchers."
• "2001: A Space Odyssey." A certain chunk of misbegotten youth was spent arguing over what the ending meant, but it doesn't really matter at this point.
I watched Kubrick's masterpiece again a couple of years ago, in honor of its 50th anniversary, and the words "awe" and "genius" kept popping into my head.
• "Apocalypse Now." Something tells me that this will represent the peak of efforts to exploit the audiovisual potential of filmmaking, best captured by the helicopter assault set to the "Ride of the Valkyries."
If my list could be a bit longer, I'd also take along "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse," because the story of how Coppola made it is almost as interesting as the movie itself.
• "A Hard Day's Night." Some older kids from the neighborhood took me to see it when it first came out and I couldn't help but become infected with Beatlemania at an early age.
I try to watch it at least every couple of years, and then spend the next few days binge-listening to all their albums again (so the bunker or deserted island will have to have them too).
• "Local Hero." The sleeper on the list is about a young oil man trying to buy a charming Scottish seaside town. Bill Forsyth's 1983 film has been seen by all too few people, but when you mention it to someone who has their face lights up and an enthusiastic sharing of notes commences.
By the time the movie ends, the oil man wants to stay in Ferness. You will too.
• "Citizen Kane." Yes, a great and historically important film can also be one that, in Barreca's words, "enthralls, entertains, enrages or enraptures."
I first came across "Kane" when I was 11 years old when it happened to come on TV one Saturday afternoon. I'd never heard of it but started watching anyway. By the end, I sensed I'd seen something truly special (and has there ever been a better movie ending or solution to a mystery than that last glimpse of "Rosebud?").
Every time I watch it, which is often, I see new things.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.Editorial on 03/23/2020
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