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My Emerson List

On 20 April 2006, Jim Emerson, a film critic at, posted a list of 102 indispensable films. I had seen all but thirteen. When I had watched the movies that I hadn't seen, I made eight substitutions, noted below. (I allowed myself to make as many as twelve, but only eight titles screamed at me for inclusion.)

This is a very strong list of movies, and every American with an interest in film ought to work his or her way through it. The original list scants comedy and favors manly dramas, and it would be interesting to see a list that inverted those tendencies. But no list of top films can ever be perfect. I've just never seen a better one, and I think that my changes have improved it still further.

What would your list look like?

Films in my personal library are starred. You may infer that I really like them.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Stanley Kubrick *
The 400 Blows (1959) Francois Truffaut
8 1/2 (1963) Federico Fellini *
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) Werner Herzog
Alien (1979) Ridley Scott *
All About Eve (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz *
Annie Hall (1977) Woody Allen *
Apocalypse Now (1979) Francis Ford Coppola*
The Awful Truth (1937) Leo McCarey *
The Battleship Potemkin (1925) Sergei Eisenstein
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) William Wyler
The Big Red One (1980) Samuel Fuller
The Bicycle Thief (1949) Vittorio De Sica *
The Big Sleep (1946) Howard Hawks *
Blade Runner (1982) Ridley Scott *
Blowup (1966) Michelangelo Antonioni *
Blue Velvet (1986) David Lynch *
Bonnie and Clyde (1967) Arthur Penn
Breathless (1959) Jean-Luc Godard *
Carrie (1975) Brian DePalma *
Casablanca (1942) Michael Curtiz *
Un Chien Andalou (1928) Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali
Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis) ) (1945) Marcel Carne
Chinatown (1974) Roman Polanski *
Citizen Kane (1941) Orson Welles
A Clockwork Orange (1971) Stanley Kubrick
The Crying Game (1992) Neil Jordan
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Robert Wise
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) Luis Bunuel *
Do the Right Thing (1989) Spike Lee
La Dolce Vita (1960) Federico Fellini
Double Indemnity (1944) Billy Wilder *
Dr. Strangelove (1964) Stanley Kubrick
Duck Soup (1933) Leo McCarey *
E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) Steven Spielberg
Easy Rider (1969) Dennis Hopper
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Irvin Kershner
Evil Under the Sun (1982) Guy Hamilton *
The Exorcist (1973) William Friedkin
Fargo (1995) Joel & Ethan Coen *
Fight Club (1999) David Fincher
Frankenstein (1931) James Whale
The General (1927) Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman
Get Shorty (1995) Barry Sonnenfeld *
The Godfather
, The Godfather, Part II (1972, 1974) Francis Ford Coppola
Gone With the Wind (1939) Victor Fleming *
GoodFellas (1990) Martin Scorsese *
The Graduate (1967) Mike Nichols
Halloween (1978) John Carpenter
A Hard Day's Night (1964) Richard Lester
Intolerance (1916) D.W. Griffith
It's a Gift (1934) Norman Z. McLeod
It's a Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra
Jaws (1975) Steven Spielberg
The Lady Eve (1941) Preston Sturges *
M (1931) Fritz Lang
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior  (1981) George Miller
The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Huston *
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) John Frankenheimer *
Metropolis (1926) Fritz Lang
Nashville (1975) Robert Altman
The Night of the Hunter (1955) Charles Laughton *
Night of the Living Dead (1968) George Romero
North by Northwest (1959) Alfred Hitchcock *
Nosferatu (1922) F.W. Murnau
On the Waterfront (1954) Elia Kazan
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) Sergio Leone
Out of the Past (1947) Jacques Tournier *
The Palm Beach Story
(1942) Preston Sturges*
(1966) Ingmar Bergman *
The Philadelphia Story (1940) George Cukor *
Pink Flamingos
(1972) John Waters
Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock *
Pulp Fiction (1994) Quentin Tarantino
Rashomon (1950) Akira Kurosawa *
Rear Window (1954) Alfred Hitchcock *
Rebel Without a Cause (1955) Nicholas Ray
Red River (1948) Howard Hawks
Repulsion (1965) Roman Polanski
The Rules of the Game (1939) Jean Renoir *
Scarface (1932) Howard Hawks
The Scarlet Empress (1934) Josef von Sternberg
Schindler's List (1993) Steven Spielberg
The Seven Samurai (1954) Akira Kurosawa *
Shall We Dance (1937) Mark Sandrich
Singin' in the Rain (1952) Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly
Some Like It Hot (1959) Billy Wilder *
A Star Is Born (1954) George Cukor
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Elia Kazan
Sunset Boulevard (1950) Billy Wilder
Taxi Driver (1976) Martin Scorsese
The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed *
Tokyo Story (1953) Yasujiro Ozu
Touch of Evil (1958) Orson Welles *
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) John Huston
Trouble in Paradise (1932) Ernst Lubitsch *
Unforgiven (1992) Clint Eastwood *
(1958) Alfred Hitchcock *
West Side Story (1961) Jerome Robbins/Robert Wise
What's Up, Doc? (1972) Peter Bogdanovitch *
The Wizard of Oz
(1939) Victor Fleming

Here are the eight titles that I added, along with those that I removed.

The Awful Truth, for Bambi
Evil Under the Sun, for Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Get Shorty, for The Searchers
The Palm Beach Story, for Days of Heaven
The Philadelphia Story
, for The Wild Bunch
Shall We Dance, for Modern Times
Unforgiven, for Dirty Harry
What's Up, Doc?
, for Bringing Up Baby

Bambi, The Searchers, Days of Heaven, and The Wild Bunch were dropped to make room for four important comedies; as noted elsewhere, comedy is seriously underrepresented on the original list; The Awful Truth, Get Shorty, The Palm Beach Story, and The Philadelphia Story are in this sense not substitutions. With Katharine Hepburn on the revised list (and in a much stronger picture), however, I can comfortably exchange the delightful Bringing Up Baby for the even more delightful remake, What's Up, Doc?

Shall We Dance is a state-of-the-art movie that, to my mind, shows Charlie Chaplin's dismal attempt to recreate a silent film the year before for the anachronism that it is. Evil Under the Sun is a much more amusing English movie than the ham-fisted Monty Python and the Holy Grail - I don't believe that Monty Python works at feature length. Finally, Unforgiven is a more grown-up picture than Dirty Harry in every way. Dirty Harry has not aged well - except for folks who are avid listeners of red-state talk radio. (July 2006)

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