My 100 Favorite Films: 1933–1975

Part One of A Fresh Look at My Favorite Films

Flying Down to Rio (1933)

This RKO musical is the first to feature Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger, the famed duo who really make magic happen on-screen. Flying Down to Rio is a historic document where viewers today get to see stardom born. Astaire is immensely likable as an assistant bandleader, and so is Rogers — the band’s vocalist. The appeal and electricity of their moments together is apparent, though short-lived in this film. Astaire and Rogers are not the stars of this film, but audiences and critics took note (thankfully). They would go on to make nine more films. The songs are great; the film moves with an electric energy. It is a breezy, enjoyable experience capped off by a history-making dance sequence.

The Thin Man (1934)

Speaking of electric duos, may I present Nick and Nora Charles? The Third Man invites us to the world of snappy dialogue, drinks and the good life with a little detective work thrown in. William Powell (Nick Charles) and Myrna Loy (Nora Charles) play a couple who get caught up trying to solve the disappearance and murder of a missing man. Based on the book by Dashiell Hammett (who based the dialogue off his relationship with Lillian Hellman), the film is a prime-example of how great dialogue paired with great on-screen chemistry makes for an entertaining experience. Powell and Loy are magical and, I would argue, among the best on-screen couples of all time. Hollywood and audiences thought so too: five sequels following Nick and Nora were made. My favorite of the sequels is 1939’s Another Thin Man.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Considered one of the greatest sequels of all time, The Bride of Frankenstein follows 1931’s Frankenstein and adds to the gothic horror collection Universal Pictures was drumming up in the 1930s. For me, this film is more style and film-making bravado than substance. The gothic mood fits well for any rainy evening. But it is the reveal of the titular character that makes this film an enjoyable and memorable experience. The iconic make-up and costume that Elsa Lanchester wears at the end of the film (the bride is only in this for the last 5–10 minutes) and the reaction to it is one of the most magical film moments. From Doctor Pretorius’ famous “The bride of Frankenstein!” to Lanchester’s quick head movements on her close-up, are as powerful and wonderful to watch even on the 100th re-watch.

Modern Times (1936)

Probably the most important film on this list, as it opened the door for me to view film as a legitimate art-form with a message — and not just pure entertainment. More on those thoughts here.

The Women (1939)

George Cukor’s The Women offers three historical and perfect performances: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell. All three are at different stages of their careers and is living document of Hollywood history. Shearer and Crawford famously did not get along; their “rivalry” is played out tremendously on-screen. Russell, a new-comer to Hollywood, balances the two with pitch-perfect comedy and wit.

The Strawberry Blonde (1941)

James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland and Rita Hayworth in a film exploring love and relationships — it is hard not to fall in love with The Strawberry Blonde. I certainly did. I wrote more about my thoughts here.

Woman of the Year (1942)

Rom-coms work not so much for the story they tell but the chemistry they produce. Among the best ever is Woman of the Year. Featuring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, the duo play two journalists/columnists whose two worlds collide and a relationship blooms. Having their characters figuring out how to balance their professional life and personal life is something Tracy and Hepburn could relate to, as their storied romance began on this film. Their chemistry on-screen is scintillating. They would go on to make nine films together, but it is their first that always left the biggest impression on me.

I Married A Witch (1942)

Following the mindset of “I just like to watch people I like have fun”, I Married A Witch follows Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and Samuel Wooley (Frederic March) falling in love. Simple, right? Well, Jennifer is a witch that Wooley’s family hanged back before the United States even existed. Once her spirit is released one night, Jennifer comes back to get revenge — only to fall in love. It is a silly plot, sure, but the light-hearted nature of the tone and the performances make this an amazing comfort movie.

I Walked With A Zombie (1943)

Influential horror film producer Val Lewton’s second film, I Walked With A Zombie, is chilling and down right spooky. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, and starring James Ellison, Frances Dee and Tom Conway, the film follows a nurse (Dee) and her care for the wife of a sugar plantation owner (Conway). Through her work on the Caribbean island of San Sebastian, she encounters a way of life she is not used and a culture completely new to her.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

The film-making of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger tackled the comic strip of Colonel Blimp and made it entirely their own. Featuring a grounded sense of fantasy and the best technicolor cinematography, both staples of their films, Colonel Blimp is a satire of the British Army. Made during the Second World War, the film examines the Britain and its foreign policy through the lens of the Boer War, the First World War and the Second World War.

Double Indemnity (1944)

Thank you Mr. Crecco, who introduced this film in a cinema class that opened the world of films to me. Double Indemnity stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck — in one of her best roles. The pair cook up a scheme to commit insurance fraud, as the two fall in love and Stanwyck is looking for a way out of her relationship.

To Have and Have Not (1944)

Based on an Ernest Hemingway story, To Have and Have Not is electric. A theme you may notice is my liking of films that intersect with history. This film is the first time Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart share the screen. Dare I be blunt, but every scene with them together is among the sexiest two people have been in film history. Near the beginning, before their stories are entwined in the film, the musical number “I Am Blue” sets the tone for what is to come.

Blithe Spirit (1945)

David Lean’s adaption of Noël Coward’s play is charming, elegant and immensely British. The film is a British take on the “screwball comedy” with wonderful effect, mainly due to the perfect casting of Rex Harrison, Kay Hammond and Margaret Rutherford. A film about contacting the dead and ghosts coming back to inter-play with the living, this immediately grabbed my attention when I first watched in college. Now, with the knowledge of Lean’s epics, this is a fun look to see the evolution of a great director.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

This is a “hand-me-down” recommendation. It’s a Wonderful Life is among my mom’s favorite films, so I was always aware of it. Growing up, I caught pieces on TV or when my mom watch — or through the trivia games she played around Christmas. In the last 5 fives, I have gone to the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts to see this on the big screen. Each time, I reminded why Frank Capra’s films (especially with this one) work.

Black Narcissus (1947)

It is those guys again: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

An example of the matte paintings used as a backdrop

Rope (1948)

My favorite of Alfred Hitchcock’s. Based on a true story and featuring Hitchcock stretching his directing muscle, I deep-dived into this a film you have to see.

Late Spring (1949)

The first of six films Yasujirō Ozu made with Setsuko Hara, Late Spring features the family strife and the cultural clashes Ozu was incredibly in capturing in story and behind the camera. I adore everything I have seen Setsuko Hara in (from early Akira Kurosawa to late Ozu), but it is this performance that will always remained a favorite. Her transformation from someone yearning for individual freedom to deepening her connection with her ancestral roots is very moving.

Setsuko Hara in LATE SPRING

The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

When you think of “mob” films or stories centered around organized crime, the ones that pop to mind first are usually male dominated. Which, from all the information available, tends to be how that world works. But, The Damned Don’t Cry offers a different perspective on these stories, where a woman is a central figure in the how an outfit operates. The woman at the center? Joan Crawford.

In A Lonely Place (1950)

Nicholas Ray’s noir about troubled love stars Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Graeme as lovers who find themselves in a murder plot. Sensually charged and atmospheric, I went deeper on the film here.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

During the height of my paranormal obsessions, from 5th grade to high school, I watched any films about UFOs I could get my hands on. The Day the Earth Stood Still was on AMC one day, and I had to watch. Starring Michael Rennie and Patrica Neal, the film depicts the world “standing still”, as an unknown object lands in Washington D.C. and brings alien life to Earth.

Summer Interlude (1951)

Ingmar Bergman!

An excellent video essay on the film

From Here to Eternity (1953)

I went through a phase where I had to watch every Burt Lancaster film I could get my hands on. Once those films were watched, From Here to Eternity stood above the rest as my favorite. It is a film about a love and relationships in 1950s Hawaii, centering around a United States Army base. I thought it was interesting seeing a film about those in the military where the action had nothing to do with wars and fighting among countries but with themselves. The film is insanely well-acted and offers an iconic romantic beach scene. Count me in!

Sabrina (1954)

Now for one of my favorite comfort films.

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

More horror movie than thrilled, The Night of the Hunter is as frightening as any horror film made today. Robert Mitchum stars as a preacher on the hunt for $10,000 and will murder his way, and disrupting a peaceful, small town, to get the money. Written by James Agee, directed by Charles Laughton (the famed actor’s only directing credit) and also featuring a performance from silent film icon Lillian Gish, The Night of the Hunter blends this story about a corrupt-able man of God with imagery and sets straight out of the German expressionism of the 1910s and 1920s.

Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

One of the best films about teenagers. I deep-dived into the film, which you can read right here!

The Searchers (1956)

One of four films I watched during senior year of high school as part of a cinema studies class, The Searchers is a movie that opened my eyes to the world of film-making. John Ford and John Wayne come together to create one of the most memorable Westerns in film history. I am not breaking any new ground by saying the direction by John Ford is sublime; the shot selection is packed with meaning and substance. On top of that, the way he shot Monument Valley — a staple for John Ford westerns — is beyond beautiful and emphasizes the vastness of the American West. It is among the best looking Westerns, too.

The Seventh Seal (1957)

Hello Bergman, my old friend.

12 Angry Men (1957)

Sometimes I wonder what makes a great film and how can one differentiate between good and great. To answer those questions, I usually turn to 12 Angry Men. Based on a teleplay of the same name, the film is iconic on multiple fronts: acting, directing, writing and editing. Directed by Sidney Lumet (in the pantheon of all time great directors), written by Reginald Rose and co-starring actors of the likes of Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb and Ed Begley, 12 Angry Men features a jury deliberation of a murder case in 1950s New York. The writing is simple, yet powerful. There are monologues (which one could expect) but the conversations are timely and credible. When great writing meets great acting, the distinction between person and character is blurred.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

When I went on my binge of Burt Lancaster films, I went in to this film not knowing a thing. I was shocked to watch Lancaster play a slimy, yet powerful columnist out to wreck havoc in 1950s New York. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick and starring Tony Curtis (also against type) alongside Lancaster, Sweet Smell of Success centers around two men challenging themselves and producing intense and intimidating performances. The setting, a dark, noisy New York City feels lived in. I felt immersed in this version of New York City, aided also by Lancaster’s sharp, pointed dialogue. Sweet Smell of Success is a different kind of journalism film — where man is not there to uncover life’s darkness but only to use it to their advantage.

Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

No one has looked more badass, more lonely and more beautiful than Jeanne Moreau in Elevator to the Gallows. Following the story of illicit lovers and their murder plot going awry, Elevator to the Gallows is a fascinating French look at the intrigue behind the noir genre. The biggest takeaway, though, is the score by Miles Davis. Recorded in a single night, David and four other musicians improvised the music after being shown relevant scenes from the film. Jazz critic Phil Johnson describe the soundtrack as “the loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear”. Which, coupled with Jeanne Moreau, makes for a dynamite film.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Have you ever wondered if you watched enough courtroom dramas that, maybe, the profession did not seem so hard? If you believe this, Anatomy of a Murder is the place to start. “Probably the finest pure trial movie ever made,” Michael Asimow, a UCLA law professor, describes the film as the best, truest blend of the world of law and film coming together. Centered by a role he was born to play, Jimmy Stewart is Paul Biegler — a former district attorney — who is contacted to help represent the defense in a murder case. Stewart is homely, charming and inquisitive. Mirrored by a colder and darker prosecutor played by George C. Scott, my favorite performance of the film, Anatomy of a Murder

The Virgin Spring (1960)

The last Ingmar Bergman film, I swear.

L’Avventura (1960)

RIP to the great Monica Vitti, who passed earlier this year. Her performance in L’Avventura is as masterful as acting gets. The film also features one of the most memorable scenes and images ever put to film.

Viridiana (1961)

Life was great in college, just watching classic after classic. Viridiana shocked audiences when it came out, was banned from countries and continues to provide worth-while viewing experiences. I wrote about Viridiana and its director, Luis Buñuel, here.

Paris Blues (1961)

I saw a Twitter thread recently asking which film had the most beautiful looking cast. There were a ton of really solid answers (beautiful people tend to be in films, who would have thought?); my answer would have been Paris Blues. Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll waltzing around Paris, falling in love and playing jazz music sounds about the best time one could have — and this film proves so. Paris Blues explores France and its attitude toward race, and is a showcase of the jazz music that populated the day. Duke Ellington’s music is played throughout and Louis Armstrong makes appearances on screen. Beautiful music, people and location? Sold.

Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

Sometimes you have a favorite film for simple reasons. Case in point: Walk on the Wild Side. This is Jane Fonda’s second feature film, and she steals the show. In a film where Barbara Stanwyck and Anne Baxter also play vital roles, it is Fonda’s Kitty Twist that dominates every scene she is in. Fonda is likable yet troubled, following Kitty’s story as she navigates New Orleans and working at a French Quarter bordello. Its a brilliant mix of memorable characters in an alluring setting.

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Two years after being published, Scout and Atticus Finch found their way to the big screen. Played by Gregory Peck and Mary Badham, To Kill A Mockingbird the film is just as classic as the book. For me, the two go hand-in-hand.

Mary Poppins (1964)

According to sources (my parents), I watched Mary Poppins the most as a kid. They also report it was mainly due to the chimney-sweep sequence toward the end. I danced and sang, pretending I was one of them. They looked like they were having a blast! I continue to stand by my childhood taste. Mary Poppins is a musical that offers immensely catchy songs, beautiful and thrilling sequences and charming performances from Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. This is a nostalgia pick that holds up very well.

A Man For All Seasons (1966)

I may be on an island here (hopefully not alone), but films featuring a lot of talking and actors going for it all on-screen are films I gravitate toward enjoying. It is too much fun watching actors doing what they do best. Usually, these films are based on plays and one of the best examples is A Man For All Seasons. Directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Paul Scofield, the film dramatizes the story of Sir Thomas More. The film deals with the power play between England’s royalty, the Catholic Church and the humane aspect of it all. This film truly clears the way for Scofield, who plays More, who gives an iconic performance of a man with a concise.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Despite being criminals, Warren Beatty’s Clyde Barrow and Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker is a couple one strangely roots for in outrunning the authorities. Their off-the-charts chemistry is intoxicating. Bonnie and Clyde dramatically re-tells the story of one of the United States’ most wanted criminals during the Great Depression.

Planet of the Apes (1968)

One of the most famous, and best, sci-fi films around, Planet of the Apes is immensely entertaining and shines the light on interesting scientific conversations. The best, most rewarding sci-fi stories do so. For more on why this film is a favorite, I explored the Planet of the Apes series here.

The Joke (1969)

Jaromil Jireš’ The Joke is considered one of the last films of the Czech New Wave movement, a term to described the Czech films being made in the 1960s, and the film is no doubt my favorite of the bunch. The film follows a man getting revenge for being kicked out of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, where he plots the revenge methodically. The Joke is an extraordinary commentary of the anti-Communist sentiment stirring throughout Eastern Europe at the time. The film feels like an important document as a testament to the voices being suppressed at the time, and, in some countries today, continue to be suppressed. History repeats itself, and the larger struggles of the characters on-screen may relate to modern audiences.

The New Land (1972)

We are done with Ingmar Bergman, but not with Max von Sydow. The New Land is a sequel to The Emigrants, both directed by Jan Troell. They both tell the story of a Swedish family coming to North America and making a new life in the Midwest during the early to mid 1800s. von Sydow and Liv Ullman star as the main anchor of this family, depicting an immigrant story that is usually looked past in film. Gone are the cities of Chicago and New York City, the Oskar family are trying to start a new life in a wild and rural setting.

Paper Moon (1973)

If on-screen chemistry and Americana is your thing, Paper Moon is among the best. The back-and-forth banter between Tatum O’Neal and Ryan O’Neal, her father, while they roam the heartland of the United States is wickedly entertaining.

The Godfather: Part II (1974)

Originally, I had both the first and second films, but, after some thought, I am sticking to only one: the second film. (Personally, the first film is the better film. It is leaner and follows through on the plot points that stem from the story). The Godfather: Part II has my favorite storyline in the entire “Godfather universe”: young Vito. The Godfather: Part II interweaves its story between a contemporary story (picking off where the first one left off) and the story of how Vito Corleone arrived and survived during the turn of the century in the United States. The backstory — flashbacks scenes — is the most interesting story and the best crafted. For this, the second one wins out.

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Just a guy who likes telling great stories, however and whenever I can. Click the Twitter icon to follow or e-mail me at ambauer93@gmail.com

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Alex Bauer

Just a guy who likes telling great stories, however and whenever I can. Click the Twitter icon to follow or e-mail me at ambauer93@gmail.com