Classic Film Starter Kit
I typically ‘hate’ top 10 lists, especially movie top 10 lists, because I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible to narrow down almost any large category to such a finite number. However, I have recommended AFI’s original top 100 list as a good place to begin. Even though I don’t agree with all the choices on the AFI’s list(s), and certainly not the rankings therein, there are a lot of quality titles to chose from and most are available on DVD. That being said, I’m frequently frustrated by their demonstrable myopia with regards to Academy Award winning movies (or nominees), a malady from which I also frequently suffer. Still, while there seems to be a near cottage industry of Oscar bashing, one can’t ignore the quality of many (most?) of Oscar’s choices. But to limit one’s selections to only those films which received an Academy Award (or a nomination) would be to ignore movies like those on the list I compiled earlier this year.
So I started with my list of 440 essential films, and began paring it. For my first cut, I tried to eliminate the most dated ones, biographies (not just because most are inaccurate, but because there are usually other competing materials with the same information), and movies with limited appeal: silents, any that were too focused (e.g. with a political agenda) or from genres with specific audiences. My second try, which pared the list to 57, eliminated even more ‘message’ movies as well as those which were too long – I didn’t want to lose anyone with a short attention span – too sophisticated (requiring one to ‘think’ too much), or have been remade recently (in case the person has seen the remake). I decided that it was important not to ‘show off’, with selections like Dodsworth (1936) or Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and also to avoid obvious choices like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Casablanca (1942). Sticking to mainstream and readily available titles (I was able to pare my list to 53 by excluding 4 which aren’t yet on DVD), I wanted all to be good stories first, but if they highlighted a particular classic movie actor or actress, so much the better (if the requestor wants to see more, then I’d have their filmographies available). I should mention that I’d already cut out everything newer than 1969 – remembering the purpose of the list – and, though I didn’t intend to end up with a final listing that included only black-and-white movies, it just worked out that way. With 53 remaining (and needing to get to 10), I forced myself to be brutal and found that I had to impose artificial limits once I got down to 37: to get to 5 from 1930s, 10 from the 40s, 10 from the 50s, and 5 from the 60s – a top 30 list! At this point, I decided to categorize the remaining titles by genres and even eliminated some of my favorites if the actors or directors were already featured elsewhere within the list. Finally, even by forcing myself to include all but the sci-fi and horror genres, I still ended up with selections that are predominately comedies and dramas (oh well).
Here are twelve (I just couldn’t do ten;-)
I realize that I’ve neglected to include performances from some of my favorite actors – Cagney, Stewart, Holden, Douglas and Lancaster – and actresses – Garbo, Colbert, Dunne, Garson and MacLaine – and haven’t included a single film from some of my favorite directors – Capra, Ford, Lubitsch and (Preston) Sturges – but I know that I’ll have a plenty of additional selections for anyone that this list entices.
© 2008 Turner Classic Movies - this article originally appeared on TCM's official blog