The B+ Movie Guide: Wrap-Up
Isn’t it great, coming to the end of something and feeling like you accomplished something?
My part here is pretty much done. This was meant to be Colin’s list, and these were primarily his articles, so I’m taking entirely a back seat today and letting this be his show to talk about — whatever he wants to talk about, really.
I’m gonna leave the rest of this up to him, because ultimately this was his list, and he’s the only one who can properly wrap the whole thing up.
Okay. I’m going to wrap this up very simply — with some sub-lists of movies that I think really stand out from the pack. We’ll call them the 50 that I wouldn’t bet the house on you having seen, but a group of 50 that you will probably enjoy most of. These represent the ten percent of the list that I not only enjoyed watching (I admit, I’d seen a bunch before the list was a thing) but also those that I’m recommending to people regularly.
I broke them into seven general categories that may seem pretty arbitrary, but I’ll do my best to explain them. The reasoning behind it all is this — a lot of us watch movies based on mood. For people like Mike or myself, who are pretty much always down for a movie, it’s not a matter of if we’re in the mood for a movie, but rather, what sort of movie we’re in the mood for. There were a few movies on the list that I might have appreciated less than I should have because of what I had a hankering for when I watch it. You don’t go into A Woman Under the Influence wanting to watch something closer to Duck Soup.
In most cases, I had a general idea of what to expect, and when I didn’t, Mike usually had something to tell me about how I should prepare for a movie, but you’re never really sure until afterward. So, I’ve thrown this together with these categories so you can pick something appropriate for the occasion. You might not feel the same way about the movies’ placement, but this is how I felt about them, anyway. It’s also because I picked the 50 movies a long time ago and only just now figured out how to slice them up into categories. They’re in no particular order within their categories.
The courtroom drama is one of my absolute favorite genres, and I never really pieced that together until I worked on this project. There are several others worth mentioning, like The Verdict or A Few Good Men, but these are the ones that made my ten percent cut. You’ll notice they’re all old, and most of them are pretty heavy on the courtroom scenes. A goodly portion of Spencer Tracy, at that. Rashomon might seem like an odd choice to go here, but it IS a courtroom movie, after all — one of the most important courtroom movies of all time, in fact.
My general atmosphere for watching a courtroom drama is early afternoon. Regardless of how long the movie is, I put on a courtroom drama at about 2pm, with no intention of leaving my apartment until after 7pm. The whole rest of the day is blocked off by whatever is about to happen. It’s also not the sort of film that you pause; instead, you sit there glued to the screen for the duration of the film, which could be three hours. Whether a serious film like Inherit the Wind, or a lighter movie with some comedic elements, like Witness for the Prosecution, this is how I’m going to watch a courtroom drama. Captain Blood doesn’t go on at 2pm, but Anatomy of a Murder can absolutely go on at 2pm. Maybe it’s got something to do with Judge Judy’s time slots. Anyway.
Inherit the Wind (1960)
The Judgment at Nuremberg
Witness for the Prosecution
Anatomy of a Murder
Sometimes you need a movie that you can put on and just smile at for a long time. Life gets stressful at times. We all know what that’s like. So there have to be the movies out there that take care of you when you’re feeling down while still not being trashy. A lot of women I know turn to horrible romantic comedies, and as abhorrent as these movies are, I guess it’s cool that they have something that works. But personally, I think you can achieve the same goals with movies that are also really great, high-quality comedy films from a wide range of years and filmmakers.
The movies on this list are the ones that I think are basically guaranteed to make you smile and laugh out loud until you’ve forgotten about whatever troubles you walked in with. These are the movies that are so much fun, your mindset changes completely. Put them on and just go with whatever happens, because by the time the movie is done, you’ll be happy.
The Shop Around the Corner
Irma La Douce
The Fortune Cookie
Murder by Death
Okay, so sometimes you want to be happy, but you’re also looking for something else. These are the ones that will bring a smile to your face and a laugh to your lips, but that also deliver something else in the way of mystery, thrills, dance, music, or the like. In the case of The Sunshine Boys, you have a hilarious movie that’s also a bit sad, in a way. Sometimes you want that bittersweet. Other times you want dancing. Fred and Ginger movies are fun, but they’ve also got the dance numbers that put the jokes on pause for a few minutes at a time.
Shall We Dance
My Man Godfrey
The Sunshine Boys
The Gay Divorcee
There are a lot of movies on the larger list that could be added to this sub-list with no problem (think Malick — Badlands happens to be on TCM as I write this), but these are the few that I wanted to add for the very simple reason that whenever I recommend one of them or have to answer questions about what sort of movies they are, the first thing I say is, “That movie is freaking gorgeous.” For three of these films, there may be a common reason — or a common pair of reasons, I should say — explaining why things look so good. Powell and Pressburger are pretty much unparalleled in my book when it comes to beautiful use of color on film, though the lovely 1938 version of Robin Hood is up there. Man With a Movie Camera can’t really be explained simply because it sounds pretty boring, and to people who aren’t into film, it is. For those of us who are interested in what someone can do with a camera and some imagination, it’s positively spellbinding.
I put these movies on at night, when I want to be hypnotized by the art of cinema to the point that I get chills of awe. That’s not the sort of thing I’m in the mood for all the time, mind you, but when I am, I turn to stuff like this.
The Red Shoes
Man With a Movie Camera
A Matter of Life and Death
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
If you’re looking for other kinds of chills, this is probably the part of the list to look at. There’s out and out horror, like The Tingler and Suspiria (both of which have their own spin on the genre), more psychological horror like Cape Fear and M, and the moves that thrill you with sheer tension, like Rififi, The Wages of Fear and Rope. Sub-sub-categories, I guess. But what they all have in common is that they put me on the edge of my seat and left my fingernails badly bitten.
Here’s the scenario I have for watching these, which happens to be the way I watched Suspiria. It’s a blustery October evening, around 8pm. There’s a window open, and a raw breeze is coming in from outside. I’m watching on a smallish screen, like a laptop screen, with my face very close. I listen in earbuds for the most immersive sound experience possible. I eat something to keep myself somewhat occupied. For the three non-freaky movies, you can skip most of that, but I just like blustery October evenings, cause they’re great. Wages of Fear and Rope actually strike me as summer movies, but really whenever you need to be absolutely drained of all emotion by a movie that makes you think you’re going to suffocate at any moment. We have those times.
Cape Fear (1962)
The Wages of Fear
THEY DON’T MAKE ‘EM LIKE THIS ANYMORE
This is a catch-all for movies that make you wish that you lived in a different time, or that Hollywood would stop acting all… well, however Hollywood acts these days. We still have tours de force from a select few geniuses in Hollywood, but it often seems as though most of the best movies that were ever made happened a long time ago. There are several perfectly reasonable explanations for that — among them the simple reality that most movies in general happened a long time ago. But there’s still a bunch of movies on this greater list of ours that you watch and think, “Man, remember when they could get away with THAT?” or, “God, they’d never scrape together the money to do this these days.” Like The Thin Man, which somehow blends comedy with a murder mystery in a way that I can’t see anyone really pulling off these days, or The Vikings, which is an incredibly fun movie replete with hand to hand combat, movie stars, lavish set pieces and an axe-throwing competition at a meat and mead feast. Who’s pulling that off these days? David O. Russell? Not on your life. These are the movies that feed my nostalgia and make me appreciate that film, like any other art or fashion, never ends. There are movies that went over really well back in the day that would either bomb or never make it past the treatment phase today. Luckily for us, those films are still around for us to watch and love, and I make sure to watch and love them often.
The Thin Man
The Sweet Smell of Success
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Leave Her to Heaven
The Postman Always Rings Twice
A Face in the Crowd
Lonely Are the Brave
Bad Day at Black Rock
TUGGING AT THE HEARTSTRINGS
Finally, there are these movies. These are the movies that surprised and moved me with their stories. Some made me want to be a better person, others made me happy that better people are out there, and some made me reflect on the relative state of goodness in humanity. Random Harvest, Brief Encounter and From Here to Eternity (more the first two) are the ones that really get romance right. Gentleman’s Agreement, Tokyo Story and The Lost Weekend all deal with societal problems and pose thought experiments about how individuals behave within the aggregate. And then there’s the outlier, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? I have no idea how this fits into this category, but I know that it does. I have heartstrings, and I know that they were tugged at various stages of that movie.
I guess I’d call these the movies that you should watch when you feel as though you want more than anything else to care about something deeply for even a few hours.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
From Here to Eternity
The Lost Weekend
So yeah. That’s the end of the list articles. I’ll probably come back and update them at some point, and add more stuff here and there for posterity’s sake. Mike might also have something to do with them too — it is his list, after all. I’m just the guy who watched all of them.
Even though it’s not on this page because it’s so incredibly obvious, isn’t it cool how To Kill a Mockingbird fits in just about every single category here at some point except for maybe the Pure Fun and Fun Plus categories? Unless you make the case that beating up Walter Cunningham is Pure Fun. That’s part of the joy of watching a drillion movies; you figure out what you like about every single one of them, and sometimes you have lots of reasons.
I know that there will be people who aren’t really into some of the stuff on this list, or who think that there are serious issues with our curation of it, but I hope that those of you following along recognize it as a labor of love that began with a very basic request via email in 2012 that spiraled into something that’s followed me through three years of my twenties and been the single most influential source of my identity as a fan of movies.
Rather than getting too caught up on this list’s particulars, I prefer to close this chapter with satisfaction, knowing what’s still left to come. Trust me when I tell you — I’ve seen what Mike’s been cooking up for the next several months — years? — of content on this blog, and it’s a lot. Lofty, insane, ambitious, et cetera. So rest assured, dear readers, this is nowhere near the end of the line for movies you should be watching. You might find issues with the upcoming stuff as well, but I expect Mike’ll make sure it earns at least a B+.
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