I love old movies. Whenever I visit my Uncle Bob and Aunt Amy, I always look forward to figuring out what we're going to watch on TCM or AMC after dinner. Sometimes it'll be some ridiculous monster movie, sometimes it'll be a lost classic I've never heard of... whatever we end up deciding on, it usually just serves as yet another reminder that people have been making great films for a long, long time.
Anyway. Here are five of my favorites.
5. The Maltese Falcon (1942)
Okay, so... I'm going to come right out and explain while Casablanca isn't on this list. I couldn't have two movies featuring the trio of Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet. And as much as I love Casablanca, it's not like it needs me to champion it. This is OG film-noir... this is John Huston and Dashiell Hammett at their double-crossing best... this is like, the best MacGuffin of all time. Also, one time, sophomore year of college, I went to see Maltese Falcon at Film Forum with my then-girlfriend and I felt like a guy in a Woody Allen movie. (Y'know, in one of those rare moments when that's like, a good thing.)
4. The Rules of the Game (1939)
This is a nearly perfect film, plain and simple, borrowing the tried-and-true frame of the comedy of manners and transplanting it into the self-absorbed anxiety of pre-WWII France. You might not think that I'm the kind of guy who likes watching wealthy folks running from bedroom to bedroom, tripping over their egos and neuroses, hunting rabbits, and accidentally killing each other. Well, I do. That's actually my favorite genre of drama. I'm not saying that this is the feel-good movie of the year--not in 1939, and certainly not in 2009. That being said, it's still a timeless work of art.
3. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Forget Godfather II or Two Towers. (Although that part in Godfather II where Diane Keaton screams, "It was an ABORTION, Michael!" is on my list of the Top Whatever Most Intense/Most Unintentionally Funny Moments ever.) THIS is the greatest sequel ever made. It has a) Frankenstein's Monster learning to talk and smoke, b) more Colin Clive running around and screaming, c) a crazy new scientist named Dr. Pretorious, d) Dr. Pretorious' tiny people that he keeps in glass jars, e) an old blind man who plays the violin and becomes BFF with The Monster, f) TONS of thinly-veiled homosexual themes, g) certified Hottie-McHotterson Elsa Lanchester as The Bride, and h) the truest line ever spoken: "Alone, bad... friend, good!" This movie has something for everybody.
2. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
When I was a kid, I had a few trusty VHS tapes that I returned to over and over again. Dr. Doolittle, The Monster Squad, Star Wars--these were the stand-bys. But nothing can compare to The Adventures of Robin Hood, or as a five-year old me dubbed it, "The Flynn Robin Hood", on account of its star, Ol' Swashbuckles himself, Errol Flynn. This is the Robin Hood film... from Flynn tossing that poached deer's carcass onto Prince John's banquet table to the split arrow in the archery contest to the greatest swordfight in cinema history to that goofy-ass grin on Flynn's face when King Richard tells him to go marry Maid Marian. "May I obey all your commands with equal pleasure, sire!" he snarks... oh, Robin Hood, you rascal. You're going to go sleep with Olivia de Havilland, aren't you! Well, as long as the king says it's okay... (Also, the score by Erich Korngold is probably the first truly great film score.)
1. The Third Man (1949)
I cannot even begin to tell you how much I love The Third Man. It's a commentary on morality, on friendship, on foreign-ness, on heroism. It's a case study on how to imbue a film with atmosphere. It showcases some of the finest dialogue spoken by some of the finest actors in film history. (Best line: "I'm just a hack writer who drinks too much and falls in love with girls.") And, oh-by-the-way, speaking of amazing film scores... Anton Karas and his friggin' zither. "What if we made a film noir that was entirely accompanied by zither music?" "Oh, I bet that'd be the best movie ever?" "Do ya?" "I sure do!" And that last shot... Alida Valli walking past Joseph Cotten--later paid homage to in The Departed--absolutely chilling. Yeah, I'm totally going to end up watching this tonight... oh well, luckily, I love it.