The B+ Movie Guide: Part XXV

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:

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - 11

Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)


This movie. French musical, where every word is sung. Not rhyming. Just — the dialogue is all sung. All of it. And it’s also one of those movies that’s really heartbreaking. The movies I find work best are the ones where the relationship starts at its highest point and then bad things happen. That’s what this is. You meet the perfect couple, who love each other and are gonna be together for the rest of their lives, and then you watch their lives fall apart. It’s a beautiful movie. The use of color in this movie is truly spectacular. A masterpiece of cinema. (3)


This is just like Splendor in the Grass, only it’s in a French city and nobody’s saying “Oh, Bud!” at any point during the movie. As Mike said though, and just like that movie, it starts with young people in love and then follows them through some serious shit (including war and death and stuff) to the point where they’re leading wholly different lives by some tragic twist of fate. The final scene is at a gas station in the snow. I was wrecked after watching this movie.

Oh yeah, and I guess they sing everything. You forget about that after the first twenty minutes or so.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)


What’s great is that Colin read that title the same way I did. (3)


He’s right. “Doctor ZhivagoBrief Encounter, and The Bridge on the River Kwai! A LEAN NIGHT!” For the same reason, this is also the first movie that comes to mind when someone mentions The Legend of Bagger Vance.

It’s one of the great epics, with Omar Sharif, Julie Christie and Alec Guinness during Russia’s most tumultuous years. You sort of having to watch this for context if you’re watching pretty much anything else about that era, like Reds. It’s a Lean masterpiece, after all.

Flight of the Phoenix (1965)


Great movie. Maybe not the most essential movie, but it’s one of those great entertaining popcorn films. You can put this on with children and have it go over just fine. It’s just good. Jimmy Stewart and an ensemble cast get stranded in the desert and they have to fix their plane. People vs. the elements. And some possibly sabotage thrown in. Great film. (3)


My dad brought this one home when I was a kid and it went over just fine. I see it as a sort of take on Sahara, in which men need to work together to survive in the desert, but there are underlying sentiments that prevent them from trusting each other. It’s one of the best possible premises for a movie, because everyone’s facing almost certain death from exposure, thirst, mental illness, or each other. Tensions are high.

They remade this with Dennis Quaid and Tyrese Gibson. Cause it’s a free country, I guess.

The Great Race (1965)


Very much not essential comparatively, but I put this one specifically because it’s so much goddamn fun. This movie is Wacky Races done in live action with Jack Lemmon as Dick Dastardly and Natalie Wood as Penelope Pitstop. And you have Tony Curtis to round it all out. They clearly modeled that show after this movie. It’s so much fun. It’s basically a cartoon. I love this movie. (3)


What fun this movie was. Tony Curtis is the intrepid hero daredevil type, and Jack Lemmon is his evil rival, with Peter Falk as his evil sidekick! Natalie Wood is the girl who Curtis has to end up with, naturally. It’s like 3 hours of nonstop fun that ends with the biggest pie fight you’ll ever see in your life. I had no idea this was a thing until it came up on the list, and now that I’ve seen it, I’ve been telling people to find it and watch it all the time.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - 7

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)


YES. Cold war, spies, John le Carré, Richard Burton in one of his best performances ever, and crisp black and white cinematography. What more can you ask for in a film? This was one of those movies that was made for a list I was going to give to Colin of movies to watch. (3)


Though, as you might expect, I’d seen this one before. This was another that my dad loved and used to rent when I was a kid, and it took me like three or four viewings to really come to like it. You can’t really show a little kid John le Carre and expect him to follow along with no problem. But it’s classic Cold War spycraft that informs pretty much everything that follows in the genre — particularly the string of amazing movies based on the author’s other works. You probably don’t get much better than this (I mean, Richard Burton and the imagery of the Berlin Wall) and you really need to see it to understand what this stuff was when it was still current. It’s all well and good to watch A Most Wanted Man or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy these days, but this is required viewing. I think it’s time I watched it again, cause I never watched it while completing the list. 

The Sound of Music (1965)




This was on the same level as The Wizard of Oz for me growing up. Everyone sees this. They shouldn’t let kids into elementary school until they’ve sat through both of these movies. 


Thunderball (1965)




Thunderball has a great song. I prefer Goldfinger because you know, Shirley Bassey. This is the movie where things start going more and more off the rails Bond-wise. You’ve got more and more gadgets, more insane villains, more extended action sequences — stuff that I don’t necessarily love. But you also have them fine-tuning some of the Bond imagery and tropes, like the social meetings with the villain in which the innuendo is running wild (shooting skeet with Largo), or meeting Domino underwater and visualizing the sexual attraction with a huge burst of bubbles from behind a rock. This cracks the top ten for Bond, obviously, and I still put it with the better Connery films.

Blow Up (1966)


Foreign classic. Those only go here if they’re really essential or really entertaining. This is definitely the former and enough of the latter. Won’t please your standard mainstream American filmgoer, but will reach more than half of movie buffs. More than the typical, “I’m saying I liked this, but it’s only because I know how famous it is and don’t want to say that I didn’t quite get it and didn’t really love it as much as you’re supposed to.” This is a movie about obsession. Guy takes a photo and a murder is committed and thinks he can solve it by blowing up the photo and investigating it. It’s good. (3)


Blow Up : pictures :: Blow Out : audio. It’s great to watch because it’s one of those great British 60s films where there’s random sex out of nowhere that makes no sense. You can tell they were messing with the plot the same way they’d mess around with sex and drugs. And it’s a murder mystery, sort of. But seriously, how much more 60s can you get? Bachelor fashion photographer who sleeps with whomever he likes.

The Fortune Cookie - 1

The Fortune Cookie (1966)


This is a Billy Wilder classic most people forget. It’s hilarious. First off, it’s Lemmon and Matthau, so right there, you see it. And it’s Billy Wilder, so doubly see it. Second — Matthau is so fucking good in this movie. He won an Oscar for it. He’s so good here it’s insane. The gist is that Lemmon is a sideline cameraman that gets run over by essentially Jim Brown. And he’s in the hospital, but it’s not serious. Enter Matthau. He’s Lemmon’s shyster lawyer brother who sees this as an opportunity to exploit the team for millions. So he convinces Lemmon to pretend he’s got all these problems so they can get a huge settlement. And Lemmon has to play along until it all goes through. The great thing about it is that Matthau plays it like he’s a noir detective. Meanwhile, it’s a comedy all the way through. But his character is in a completely different movie. It’s so funny. This is one of those great movies you’re gonna be surprised you didn’t know about sooner. (3)


That’s exactly how this works. Lemmon is in this crazy comedy where they’re taking advantage of Jim Brown, who feels terrible about what he did. And they’re getting in so deep that Lemmon can’t take it anymore, and it’s zany and hilarious. Meanwhile, Matthau is the mastermind of the whole scheme, and he’s playing it completely seriously. I almost split my gut watching this movie, it was that funny. Seriously, one of my favorite Wilder movies, and people don’t know it these days.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - 408

The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966)




The best of the Spaghetti Westerns, and one of the best Westerns of all time. Eastwood, Van Cleef, Wallach. A bunch of gold. The Civil War. Lots and lots of death. One of the most iconic Morricone scores ever.

Which — nobody has ever more accurately captured the way that I look and feel as I look for the liquor section in a new supermarket.

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Final Thoughts:


Most of these speak for themselves. The Great Race… yeah, sure. But I don’t care. I want people to see it, and it’s great. Plus, I’m not calling this a true “essentials” list. I want my audience to be entertained more than anything. That’s entertaining. Flight of the Phoenix is great and can pass for essential. The Fortune Cookie has a director and a cast that totally works, and is an underrated classic. Maybe you can argue against The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but honestly, if there was a movie that checked all of the boxes for what I was looking for to show Colin, that’s the one. The rest are 100% essential.


The ones I had already seen are pretty essential: Flight of the PhoenixThe Spy Who Came in from the ColdThe Sound of MusicThunderball, and Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The rest…well, Doctor Zhivago is massive, Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a really touching French film that takes us out of the New Wave stuff we’ve been looking at recently, and Blow Up is great, if only for movie people. As for The Great Race and The Fortune Cookie, those are just awesome to watch, so you should watch them either way. Once again, stuff that you might be able to make a case against, but really shouldn’t.  

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More movies tomorrow.

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