The B+ Movie Guide: Part XIII

In May of 2012, Colin said I should make a list of movies that need to be seen, because he felt there were huge gaps in what he’d seen, and wanted something to do. The idea was that I’d make up a list, as “homework” for him, and he’d use that as things to watch.

So we came up with a giant list of 500 movies that worked, and Colin went about finishing it. And now that it’s finished, we’re gonna write it up. Because you don’t watch a giant list of movies without documenting that you did it.

We’re going through the entire list, little by little, for posterity’s sake. And here’s the next set:


Harvey (1950)


Jimmy Stewart is a drunk whose best friend is an imaginary rabbit. I’m sorry, did I need to say more? (2)


I first saw this on the stage when my high school put it on. One of my classmates was a brilliant actor (he’s had some success on Broadway and doing his own off-Broadway cabaret shows) and he played the Jimmy Stewart part, talking to a giant imaginary rabbit. It’s a great movie that sort of does the Miracle on 34th Street thing of, “Well, he’s a great guy and even if he is crazy, let’s just roll with that,” thing, which is nice. Also, have a drink ready for when you’re watching this movie. The plot works out better if you have a drink.

Night and the City (1950)


Great noir. I knew nothing about this when I saw it. It’s terrific. Richard Widmark. Wrestling. In a similar vein as Sweet Smell of Success. This also appears on some of those lists of greatest movies ever made. (3)


Another one like The Asphalt Jungle  where you see stuff moving in a certain direction and want to yell at the characters, “NO! Don’t do that! That won’t help you!” Along with being a masterful example of the genre that is still commonly taught in film classes today, it has some amazing performances and a few majorly good wrestling scenes. And not WWE stuff — this is proper, Greco-Roman wrestling, like John Goodman in Speed Racer. I want to give this movie some credit for being a noir that you can follow without trying too hard. It’s still every bit as good, and really just better than most of the other genre movies you could compare it with, which makes it something of a rare bird. It’s the noir that doesn’t require major twists or surprises to be effective.

Rashomon (1950)


I watched this in college with a bunch of people. They remember it differently. (2)


This is one I was waiting to write about. There are reasons why I might be biased toward Japanese movies (only the classics by the greats because Japan has nothing on Hollywood and anyone who tells you different is in denial) within the foreign spectrum because I studied so many of these movies during college. This is one that I saw early on during college and liked, and then liked way more once I had read the source material. Turns out that the movie is based on two different short stories by the Japanese author Akutagawa Ryunosuke: Rashomon and Yabu no Naka (In a Grove). The famous “Rashomon effect” actually comes from In a Grove, but whatever.

Rashomon’s story takes place at the gate, where a guy who’s just been fired is thinking about becoming a thief to survive and comes across an old woman stealing hair from corpses to make wigs. She spends a while convincing him that her thievery is justified, and the story ends with him going, “Okay, well then I guess I’ll rob you,” and stealing her clothes.

In a Grove is the Rashomon script’s story that Kurosawa used. A woodcutter finds a body in the woods and the story unfolds in flashback testimony during a trial to determine what actually happened. The details are numerous, but the point is that the three main accounts share evidence, but each one refutes the other two. Each is possible, but you can’t really know which is true based on what you know. The movie puts the two stories together by setting it at Rashomon with the woodcutter talking about the episode and what it means for human nature. The whole thievery thing is a major theme.

The plot is majorly good, but aside from that you have Takashi Shimura as the woodcutter and Toshiro Mifune as Tajomaru, the bandit/rapist. Mifune is something else in pretty much everything he did, but this is another level. I don’t put him on this level in anything else (though he gets close in High and Low, which more people need to see), and it’s still relatively early in his career. This is what put Kurosawa AND Mifune on the map. Even before you see Seven Samurai or Ozu’s Tokyo Story, you need to watch this first in your Japanese film coverage. It’s also 88 minutes long. If you haven’t seen this, you haven’t seen Japanese film. 


Sunset Boulevard (1950)


I mean, yeah. (2)


This movie starts and ends with a dead guy in a pool. Well, technically, it ends with a crazy woman hallucinating. This is a movie about Hollywood that’s not actually about Hollywood. You need to watch it. It’s worth it just for the car she has, an Isotta Fraschini. 

Ace in the Hole - 39

Ace in the Hole (1951)


Another Billy Wilder masterpiece. There’s a fucking surprise. It’s about the terrible things the media will do just for a scoop. Kirk Douglas is a huge douchebag here. It’s great. This is one of those forgotten masterpieces. Must-see. (2)


This one I hadn’t heard of til the list came around. A guy gets trapped in a cave-in in a Native American cave complex in the Southwest, and Kirk Douglas is a jerk reporter who exploits the absolute hell out of the situation. If you want to watch Kirk Douglas be total scum for 90 minutes, it’s amazing, and the end comes out of nowhere. The sort of movie you can’t imagine seeing in theaters.

The African Queen - 10

The African Queen (1951)


Bogart and Hepburn drunk on a boat. This movie is incredible. John Huston again. So many production stories about this one. Also features the immortal line, “I now pronounce you man and wife. You may proceed with the execution.” (2)


These two together had to happen, and it doesn’t disappoint. Bogey is a Canadian steamer captain on African rivers at the outbreak of WWI, and he picks up Hepburn. One thing leads to another and they end up trying to sink a German warship. This movie has everything. I remember, though, when I watched this as a I child and got to the end, I thought, “But…you’re still in the water. In Africa.”

An American in Paris - 117

An American in Paris (1951)


Oh, that American. Always getting into trouble. It’s a really solid Vincente Minnelli musical. Best Picture winner (somehow. Over Streetcar. And A Place in the Sun). Gene Kelly doing some great things. Pretty much a standard musical plot. But the way they shoot some of the dancing sequences is great. When they introduce Leslie Caron — they do this thing with single colors defining the spaces. That’s really good. And the final sequence — not a single word spoken for something like the final 17 minutes of the film. Really great stuff. One of the golden age Hollywood musicals. (3)


This isn’t Fred and Ginger and it’s not Singin’ in the Rain, so people forget about it. Don’t forget about it. It’s really well done, and while it might not have deserved the accolades it got, it still needs some recognition. It’s a great movie with great color and great dancing. Just fun.

The Day the Earth Stood Still - 21

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)


One time, I was going to a house party at my friend Owen’s house. And I was trashed. And I was walking up the street and saw campus security about to drive past me. And I thought, “Oh man, I don’t want them to see me stumbling around drunk and pull over and say something,” so I just stopped, mid-stride, and stood perfectly still for twenty seconds. And then when they passed me, I kept walking.

Oh yeah, this movie is also really iconic. (2)


That’s a good story. I like this this movie as a sci-fi flick because it’s not so much about the Red Scare or anything like that, but rather about how postwar society had entered a new phase of destructive development and needed to be checked in some way. It’s a look at humankind and our moronic ways as observed by aliens who want the best for us. An appeal for pacifism and reconciliation. For 1951, that’s remarkably prescient.  

A Place in the Sun (1951)


American classic. Elizabeth Taylor in this movie… wow. It’s also incredible, and George Stevens directs the shit out of it (he’s one of those directors who has like four American classics under his belt and you know just about everything he does is of the highest quality). Montgomery Clift — Shelley Winters! Terrific film. (2)


There are a surprising number of movies on this list in which people drown. Nobody remembers Shelley Winters from stuff, but I always found it funny that the movie she doesn’t drown in is Poseidon Adventure. That’s funny to me. But what’s really amazing about this movie is how you’re really on Montgomery Clift’s side for most of it when you really shouldn’t be. But what are you gonna do? It’s kind of an impossible situation for him. Sunrise, and now this. Men will do awful things to bed fine women.

Strangers on a Train - 7

Strangers on a Train (1951)


This might be a top five Hitchcock. Definitely one of his most iconic. Incredible film. The title alone should tell you how essential it is. Hitchcock has about 5-10 movies you need to see, and the rest are just cake at that point. I’m trying to leave you guys stuff for later, but all his stuff is so damn classic I have to keep putting them on here. (2)


I need to watch this again, because it was so early on the list that I’m struggling to remember some of the finer plot details. However, if you’ve seen Throw Momma From the Train, you get the idea. Two strangers are supposed to swap murders so they both get away with it, but one is crazy and the other doesn’t go through with it. The moment everyone remembers from this movie was done again in Ocean’s Eleven, when Clooney is looking forward while everyone turns around. In this, it’s the crazy guy in the stands at a tennis match, staring straight forward while everyone else turns their heads back and forth to watch the ball. I don’t know if I want to say top five for me because the top five list for Hitchcock must be about 12 movies long, but it’s way up there.

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Final Thoughts:


8 of these movies speak for themselves and all you need to do is look at the titles to see why they’re on here. The other two are Night and the City and Ace in the Hole. Ace in the Hole ought to be considered essential by title alone, but I feel like it hasn’t quite gotten to that point yet. At least, not like these other ones. Night and the City could make be swapped off, but I don’t think so. It’s a total package film. So this section works totally fine for me. Nothing I’d want to take off.

Ratings: Mostly 2s, some 3s. Rashomon and Sunset Boulevard are borderline 1s.


I thought that Ace in the Hole was the only non-essential. Night and the City is such a textbook noir (like, I actually learned about it in a textbook) that it seems fair to go on even over other noirs. There were plenty here that I’d seen during my childhood, though the one that I feel most strongly about is obviously Rashomon because it’s such a perfect film. I feel like it’s a hidden gem, though, because even though everyone knows of it and talks about its significance, nobody has actually sat down to watch it. That’s weird to me, because I’ve watched a lot of foreign films that are difficult to sit through, but this is a joy. I guess it’s one of those that has become so obvious that people feel as though they can skip it. But at any rate, I rank it about Seven Samurai and Tokyo Story on my list of the best Japanese films ever.

Other than what I’ve mentioned here, what on this list is anyone going to claim to be less than absolutely essential?  

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More movies tomorrow.

2 responses

  1. BlueFox94

    Ace In The Hole was the first film I’ve encountered since getting into films that I could, without any hesitation, call “perfect”. As such, it’s now my #3 all-time favorite film.

    July 20, 2015 at 1:37 pm

  2. So this is my analogy of how the grading system works. If i’m hanging out with a bunch of film buffs, and I say I haven’t seen a Level 3 film, they’re like, “Oh, you should see that.” If I say I haven’t seen a Level 2 film, they give me a look like, “Really?” If I say I haven’t seen a Level 1 film, they try to kill me.

    July 20, 2015 at 2:08 pm

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