Monday, March 18, 2013

Blogfest: Top Ten Favorite Movies of All-Time

It's Not The Final Countdown


      Formulating a list that by its very proclamation boasts of "My Ten Favorite Films" requires a mindset I've never been truly ready to embrace. To exclude so many films that I love is to commit an almost homicidal act upon works that to me are endowed with such everlasting appeal, my affinity for them incontrovertible. What follows, therefore, is merely an attempt. 
      This most unenviable of tasks has been levied upon yours truly and it explicitly stipulates the construction of a list that has as a definite endpoint ten. This means I must confront that very impossibility, ascend the Everest of movie fandom, and experience the visual awes of the Seven Wonders. Well, metaphorically speaking, anyway. This is a feat I feel ill-equipped to address. But I must soldier on. Critical complacency is not welcome in the dominion of cinephilia. The unpleasantness of choice is a rite of passage. The business of making lists demands impassivity. For someone whose affection for film and passion for particular films rivals a songwriter's lust for lyrics, parting with loves is the name of the game. There can be only ten.
      Alex Cavanaugh is a man with whom talent and passion blissfully coincide. As an exceptional blogger and proprietor of the "Top Ten Movie Countdown Blogfest," Alex's shoulders must, first, be imposing. The enormous responsibility he carries makes The Rock look frail by comparison. But his reliable presence in the blogosphere, his dedication to maintaining a cheerful community, is indicative of his commitment to content. Content that enhances, expands, and augments the cultural currency from which blogging faithfully relies. To you Alex I express my gratitude. Thank you for hosting this wonderful blogathon!  
      For a representative list to be formed exacting standards have to be met. My list attempts to be representative. It is not designed to be the most accurate reflection of my ten favorite films, but more of an illustration of ten films that I deeply, profoundly love at this very moment. These films encompass the full gamut of my ongoing cinematic education, tracing film's glorious long history. If I had to come up with a list of my ten favorites tomorrow, or next week, there's a good chance different films would be featured. 
      The more thought that I devote to this list's creation, the more I realize how entirely arbitrary and cumbersome it is to settle at ten. For someone ensconced in film and sufficiently versed on the careers of hundreds of revered filmmakers, it is unbecoming, under the guise of objective criticism, to not include so many other cherished films. The film I consider the greatest of all-time, for instance, does not make the cut. Is it because critics almost unanimously agree with that particular film's peerless merits? What cultural benefit can I muster if I champion only the films that constantly receive the lion's share of praise? 
      The answer is I can include any film that I feel a deep connection to; a film that strives for aesthetic perfection; that demands endless interpretation; that illuminates aspects of life that I've never confronted or refused to grasp; a film that is compositionally impeccable, visually breathtaking, narratively enthralling. The criteria I exercised is specially and deliberately diverse. So, to belabor the point once more, this list is meant more as a crystallization of my personal history with film. Films considered universally great will invariably be excluded. Now let's get to that list, shall we....

Here's a list spotlighting many of the films I considered: The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, High Noon, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon A Time in the West, The Third Man, The Long Goodbye, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars: Episode V - The Empires Strikes Back, The Thin Red Line, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Earrings of Madame D, The Double Life of Veronique, Sullivan's Travels, Seven Samurai, Sansho the Bailiff, Rules of the Game, Rocco and His Brothers, Rashomon, Playtime, Platoon, Atlantic City, Au revoir les enfants, Pierrot le fou, Pickpocket, Dr. Strangelove, Paisa, Le Mepris, L'Atalante, Children of Paradise, L'Avventura, La Notte, Blow Up, Mean Streets, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Lawrence of Arabia, Tokyo Story, La Grande Illusion, Chungking Express, Ikiru, Stray Dog, Yojimbo, Once Upon A Time in America, Yi Yi, City of Sadness, From Here to Eternity, Duck Soup, Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, Do The Right Thing, Die Hard, Cool Hand Luke, Chinatown, Alien, Aliens, Blade Runner, Terminator 2, Back to the Future, Jaws, Memento, Children of Men, The Bittersweet Life, The Man From Nowhere, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Casablanca, The Shop Around the Corner, The Big Heat, The Maltese Falcon, The Apartment, Ace In The Hole, Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, M, Cache, Breathless, Cabaret, 400 Blows, Barry Lyndon, Mulholland Drive, The Son, The Child, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Bicycle Thieves, Blow Out, Army of Shadows, Mon oncle d'Amerique, Vertigo, Rear Window, Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, Psycho, Apocalypse Now, Andrei Rublev, American Graffiti, Amelie, All The President's Men, Airplane!, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, A Bittersweet Life, Pather Panchali, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Fight Club, Seven, L.A. Confidential, Heat, To Live and Die In L.A., Les Diaboliques, Requiem For A Dream, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, and so, so many others. I could have easily reeled off another 100-plus movies. This was the antithesis of easy. 

My Ten Favorite Films:

10). Le Samouraï
      Cinema's ascendance to the high arts has always been a matter of debate. Unbridled creation is the enemy of commerce despite the inherent boon it affords a master visual stylist. Jean Renoir never bought the notion because he never thought a director could furnish a singular vision unto himself. The crystallization of art represented only one voice in his mind. 
      Someone like Jean-Pierre Melville, a virtuoso of image, composition, mood, and sound, would ultimately prove the great master wrong. Melville commanded a vision without affectation. Minimalist flourishes stretched to their maximum effect in Le Samourai, exemplified his stylistic creed. Action is character. Attitude, behavior, disposition imbue images with meaning and purpose. And that handsomest of International movie stars Alain Delon, made hitmen cool. 
      What was so great about the French New Wave, and what emboldened its rebellious flair, was not so much a reinvention of the essential language underlying filmmaking, but more of an updated calibration of the grammar. From horse and buggy to Thunderbirds, Corvettes, Eldorados. From The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance to Bob le flambeur and Le Samourai. 

9). His Girl Friday
      Any top ten list that has my name on it has to fulfill one contractual obligation, which asserts the inclusion of at least one comedy. And few comedies springing from Hollywood's Golden Era were funnier, upbeat, more subversive, chaotic, and charming than Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday. This is the apex of screwball comedy, sharing a place alongside the peerless works of Preston Sturges (The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels, Hail the Conquering Hero, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek). 
      Chemistry is an indispensable ally of comic fare and Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell invigorated their absurd proceedings with the sturdy romanticism of an Ernst Lubitsch adventure (think Ninotchka, To Be or Not To Be, Trouble in Paradise, The Shop Around the Corner). If I'm ever suffering from a downbeat mood, I'll throw this picture on and immediately feel uplifted. The Lubitsch Touch ain't got nothing on His Girl Friday, and that's a heck of a bold statement because I love Mr. Lubitsch's films.

8). The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
      I have a great fondness for John Huston's films. Residing somewhere in the deep recesses of my consciousnesses, where image is processed and sound echoed, is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It's the film I always find myself retreating to in times demanding inspiration. The reasons are innumerable. The three central performances by Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, and Walter Huston illustrate a certain benchmark for what constitutes effective acting; that is to say, acting without bravado, without submitting to hierarchy or bowing down to those incessant calls to ham it up. A real synergy binds their work. 
      And John Huston's efficient direction, focusing on the psychology of the characters and the ominous pretensions of the sprawling landscapes they traverse, is a masterstroke. It remains resolutely one of the great, enduring outdoor pictures on par with the groundbreaking work of John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, Anthony Mann, Sergio Leone, John Sturges, and other masters of landscape and the countless successors they birthed.  
7). The Red Shoes
      Michael Powell's and Emeric Pressburger's work fuses together like a matrimonial bond. There's never been a directorial tandem more impressively conjoined. The balletic gestures in this film, the grace and rhythm with which they merge, is of a scope I've never quite seen duplicated. The sumptuous photography, characteristic of all the Archers' pictures, and the wild and fantastical reverberations of music and movement, inject an artistic buoyancy that engulfs your every sense. Beholding the affectionate grandiloquence makes you an active participant. Many of us aspire to be the best. But for what reason? If it is vanity and hubris that propels our quest, then we are doomed. I think that is part of the lasting message of this film. Vibrant, poetic, and profound are just glimpses into the effusive catalog of adjectives with which it is necessary to describe The Red Shoes. 

6). Late Spring
      Witnessing an Ozu picture is an experience I find almost impossible to mimic. There are few contemporary directors blessed with the confidence, patience, discipline, and visual repertoire required to make a film as beautifully composed and austere as Late Spring. Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Edward Yang, and Theo Angelopoulos are just three modern exemplars who embody the sublime rigid formalism of Yasujiro Ozu. All of his master works are interchangeable in terms of their brilliance because they disarm you in much the same way, though each time it conjures a different quality. Rest asssured that what you are watching reflects the core philosophy of the filmmaker who made it. That it underwent his most exhaustive efforts. That it enlivened his passion as much as yours. Any of ten Ozu films could have taken the place of Late Spring. But for me Late Spring has always triggered an arresting emotional connectivity that I find impossible to deny or dilute with excess verbiage. 

5). Three Colors: Red 
      Krzysztof Kieslowski is one of the treasured gifts that film has given us. The Decalogue, Three Colors Trilogy, and The Double Life of Veronique are some of the most important works of the last twenty-five years. Striving to navigate the moral and spiritual chasms of everyday life, Kieslowski's films have achieved an extraordinary, almost sublime permanence. Educating without being didactic. Imparting meaning without being polemic. Embodying art without being pretentious. 
      What his film's represent is the sophisticated balance between pictorialism, distilled from artistic flourishes at their most ethereal, and emotional solvency upon which real human engagement depends. Relationships are explored with compassion, empathy, understanding. The images project an incandescence not because Kieslowski seeks to flaunt his unmatched visual luster, fulfilling some cheap ultimately hollow indulgence, but because the rules of composition apply and he knows precisely how to apply them. Passion and humility glide along the same wavelength, occupying the deepest points of human exploration. This is an impassioned filmmaker who has an miraculous grasp of the medium's enormous potential. See this film if what you desire is the path of enlightenment. 

4). High and Low
      I've written about this film ebulliently in the past, so I find it especially expedient to revive my prior assessment in verbatim. In High and Low, Kurosawa demonstrates a flair for the police procedural, juxtaposing the functions of law enforcement with the dualities of good and evil, hero and perpetrator. His compositional expertise, born from years working with a paint brush, frames the story in an exquisite morality dance. Small details illuminate character motivations. Ultimately, what transcends High and Low from the regimented patter that befalls most films of this genre is Kurosawa's vision. 
      Eschewing convention and the traditional posturing of bad guy, good guy morality tales, Kurosawa places the focal point not on one man's drama but an entire state mired in ethical crisis. The narrative coheres seamlessly through a labyrinth of themes including wealth and poverty, hope and sorrow, honor and dishonor. A synergy is fostered between these psychical polarities, painting an elaborate picture of a society submerged in conscientious extremes. Life is not as simple as we like to think. Real power exists beyond the imprisonment of material wealth and political patronage. We just have to seize it when the moment arises

3). Goodfellas
      There's never been a point in my blogging tenure when I celebrated a gangster picture without recognizing The Godfather. There's never been a time when I put Goodfellas above it. But today is the day where I break with tradition. As much as I adore Francis Ford Coppola's films, and will continue to as long as I walk on this Earth, Goodfellas, endowed with such pitch-perfect entertainment value, deserves a chance to revel in the same sort of luminous glow that befits its spiritual predecessor. 
      Certainly Martin Scorsese's prodigious talent is the reason. Bravura tracking shots, kinetic pacing, freeze frames that leave indelible marks, hypnotic slow motion sequences, there are just infinite dramatic weapons awaiting deployment from Marty's arsenal and they're all unleashed in this film. None of these dynamic elements, including the mesmeric screenplay written by Nicholas Pileggi, are extraneous or superfluous. 
      And then there are the magnificent performances to cherish. Ray Liotta is not often regarded as one of his generation's most gifted actors, but if you consider his electrifying turn in Jonathan Demme's Something Wild and his tour de force performance here, it becomes impossible to characterize his work as anything other than earth-shattering. Joe Pesci and Lorraine Bracco also enchant the screen with a kind of sleazeball vitality, supplying such venal charm in what is quite frankly one of the most aggressively sordid mafia tales. 
      Captivating as he so often does, Robert DeNiro, among the greatest actors to transform a character, delivers spectacular moments of lucidity, his gestures hypnotizing to witness. 
      Goodfellas sits atop the Rushmore of gangster films, existing on a plane in which Scorsese's stylistic exuberance incriminates the dysfunctions of an ethos bathed in squalor. The contemptible denizens of society must submit to retributive punishment warranted from a life of despicable crime. 

2). A Man Escaped
      I just knew that the great minimalist Robert Bresson, was going to inhabit prime real estate on my list. Pickpocket, Au Hasard Balthazar, Diary of a Country Priest, and Mouchette could easily have replaced A Man Escaped. I revere this man's inimitable talent that much. His films defy time and place. They function as universal treatises on human behavior comprised from the most elegant compass of understanding. Revisiting his work is an open invitation to cry my heart out. To engender emotion and penetrate the canvas of the human heart is a rare skill even among cinema's most gifted auteurs. Robert Bresson is the progenitor. His stylistic rigor, pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, choosing non-professional actors, professing deep curiosity in the relationships of his characters, experimenting with genres, tones, environments, and commanding all the tools of an accomplished artist, are simply the marks of preternatural authorship. 
      While I would agree that A Man Escaped is not Bresson's best work (Pickpocket or Au Hasard Balthazar would earn that honor), it is the film that resonates with me most arrestingly. The spellbinding climax exhibits an almost Hitchcockian flair for suspense. And the total effect of A Man Escaped is even more of an unflinching sensory assault, leaving you with that rare feeling of completeness. But in this case that catharsis triggers an insatiable thirst for inquiry, precisely the stimulant from which your second viewing will demand immediacy. There's no doubt you'll be coming back for more. 

1). La Dolce Vita
      Federico Fellini is among my favorite directors of all-time. I've seen all his most celebrated works and some of his lesser-known gems; Nights of Cabiria, Juliet of the Spirits, I Vitelloni, 81/2La Strada, and Amarcord. Of all these veritable classics, La Dolce Vita captures my cinematic sensibilities strongest. It may not be his most profound or provocative work, but it is an unmistakable Fellini picture guided by that same hallucinatory vigor. The ornate scale that has become his visual trademark, where movement is relentless and life evocative, is on full baroque display. 
      Taking events from his life and transforming them onto screen is the Fellini mark, an autobiographical compulsion with which to enrich his artistic impulses. In La Dolce Vita this interior approach is a revelation. So authentically does Fellini capture the essence of living, transcribing the universal into the personal, that he invigorates familiar settings with almost-surreal qualities. Reality intersects with fantasy. Irreverent episodes become iconic touchstones. Unnerving images that highlight a society in crisis are interpolated with the normalcy of everyday life. 
      Functioning enigmatically like so many Fellini pictures, La Dolce Vita advances through what I can only categorize somewhat obscurely as a moving gallery encompassing existential and spiritual angst. 
      The rhythms of dance dominate the screen. Images supersede ideas and movements prevent visual stagnation. Roger Ebert famously observed, "few directors make better use of space." It is this awareness of spatial extravagance that highlights an important quality of La Dolce Vita. It is less the concentrated synergy of ideas than a procession where emotions march whimsically to the symphony of tragic happenstance. 
      Directing with complete control and confidence, with a curious existential gaze, Fellini probes the motivations of his many composite performers, conjuring up an atmosphere where divergent tones run the course. Visual elegance and exuberant performance unite in perfect harmony.

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       Feel compelled to besmirch my tastes, question my choices, harangue my name or sing my praises? Then by all means leave a comment. Interaction is what I treasure most about blogging. And thanks for stopping by! I sincerely hope you all enjoyed your stay :)

*All the amazing participants of the Top Ten Movie Countdown Blogfest can be found HERE!

35 comments:

  1. High Fives, Goodfellas is my list as well. Alas my only criteria was how much of a comfort and an escape a movie is for me. I loved reading each of your criteria and the thoughtful passages you included for each of the films here. You really exemplify the term film enthusiast and now I have a couple more films to add to my growing list of must sees, many of which I obtained from reading your posts.

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    1. When it comes to Goodfellas, we are kindred spirits, Melissa! How anyone cannot appreciate this film on a level similar to ours is beyond me. It is just spectacular cinema and showcases the power of moving image better than almost every film made in the last 30 years.

      I deeply appreciate your positivity and I'm genuinely happy that I'm able to expand your viewing habits. Thanks for endorsing my selections because you know more than most how truly difficulty this was for me to accomplish.

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  2. Matty, your posts are always impressive, dude, and this one is no exception.
    I haven't seen 80% of the films featured in your list, but I trust your taste 100%!:)

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    1. Thanks a lot, George! I appreciate the kind words :)

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  3. This is the first list I have read that I haven't seen a single one of your picks.
    Rhonda
    Laugh-Quotes.com

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    1. Wow! That means one of two things. I failed spectacularly or managed to succeed on a level I could have never anticipated. Either way works fine for me. Thanks!

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  4. Thank you, Matthew!
    The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a classic. Goodfellas another great one.
    Knew you would have a classy and thoughtful list. Thanks for participating in my blogfest!

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    1. You're welcome, Alex! And thank you very much, good sir :)

      Participating was my absolute pleasure. And to think I waffled in my decision. Such an indecisive soul I am.

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    1. Amazing, amazing film! Thanks for stopping by :)

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  6. Goodfelllas - a fave of mine too - and many in your considered list are too. Great 'intelligent' choices. X

    shahwharton.com

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    1. Goodfellas is definitely all the rage on my blog! And thanks for the ringing endorsement :)

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  7. Asking a film reviewer what their favorite movies are is libel to cause a head implosion. I know the feeling. Excellent choices! It's good to meet you. :)

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    1. Absolutely true, David. It is sacrilegious around these parts. But I desperately wanted to participate and Alex's prodding made such participation inevitable. I had to commit the ultimate act.

      And what surprises me is that I'm quite pleased with my picks even though I cringe at the realization of how many other amazing films I had to excise.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. These are all classics I have yet to watch. I'll have to put them all on my netflix queue.
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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    1. Netflix is such an instrumental tool in my movie viewing evolution. Exploit it to the fullest!

      Thanks for commenting :)

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  9. I knew your list would be one of a kind and introduce me to quality films I've never heard of before. Thanks for enlightening me with some of the greatest!

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  10. Only ever heard of 5 and watched two, Goodfellas was great though.

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    1. If this were baseball, you'd still be batting...well, that's not a good analogy. But I'm glad you recognized some of them.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  11. Alas, I have failed you as a student of film. I'd hoped to eke by with a passing grade, but I fell just short, having seen only 5 of 10. (I have no idea which titles would fall onto my own top 10, but Red and His Girl Friday would certainly get strong consideration.)

    Excellent list and write-up, as always. (And, as always, I've added another couple to my Netflix list.)

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    1. 5 out of 10 ain't so bad, Nate! Remember Some Like It Hot? "Nobody's perfect."

      If you ever get the chance to formulate your own Top 10 list, let me know. I'd be thrilled to discover your favorites. The process of figuring out what films you most admire is exciting, and unexpectedly revelatory. It requires you to carefully revisit your personal history with film and that re-engagement, in theory, could lead to some startling observations.

      Thank you very much!

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    2. "Nobody's perfect?" If you're hoping to marry me, Matthew, you should know... I'm not a natural blonde.

      But yeah, putting together a definitive Top 10 list is a daunting task. I have no idea how you managed, considering you've watched considerably more than me. I may try it some day, but I'm just as likely to weasel out of it by doing a series of themed Top 10 lists instead. (e.g. Top 10 foreign, animated, screwball comedies in B&W, etc.)

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    3. If your name happened to be Marion Cotillard or Olivia Wilde, I'd bleed the bank account dry to elope tomorrow. P.S. Some Like It Hot is just infinitely quotable.

      Trying to settle at ten is virtually impossible. It's not something I'd willingly entertain doing for a second go-round. Too much consideration equals extreme exhaustion. I do like the idea of doing themed Top 10 lists, though. Perhaps it's something I can implement in my blog for future content.

      Thanks!

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  12. I absolutely loved Goodfellas...I cannot say I have seen another on your list. You have a flair for the vocabulary that not 10 people I know could follow, I find that refreshing in a weird way. Your penchant for the B&W films and the older periods is amazing. You clearly have dived to great depths in the cinematic art. I am impressed by the list in your bio. Thanks for stopping by yesterday!

    Chuck at Apocalypse Now

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    1. Hi, Chuck. Thanks a lot for stopping by!

      I couldn't imagine constructing a definitive Top 10 list without including Goodfellas or Godfather Part I or II. For me, and most others I've encountered, they are the Michael Jordans of best of lists. An act of treason and requisite punishment is commensurate with exclusion of those films.

      Thanks for the compliments! The second I started taking film seriously, at least understanding it as an art form, my admiration for older films and world cinema grew exponentially. My younger, naive self would certainly dismiss my current picks as pretentious or artsy fartsy. Today I cannot rationalize such a myopic and misguided mindset.

      And you're welcome :)

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  13. Wow, classic movies and I haven't seen a lot of them. It's so tricky to pick 10. There are a lot of older movies I like that I didn't mention in my post.

    Allison (Geek Banter)

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    1. Hi, Allison!

      Tricky is a good way of describing it. The process is agonizing. Picking ten films when I've seen thousands is insane. Plus I hold upwards of 500 (if not a lot more) in great regard.

      I enjoyed your list, too. You did a fine job :)

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  14. Late to the party - is still to the party, right? Another stellar post from my cinephile pal - a decalogue of lofty proportions - well chosen, chilled to perfection, and served just right - with a generous portion of Matty on the side! Most nights we eat - but tonight - we FEAST!

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    1. This is an AWESOME comment, Craig! Thanks so much :)

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  15. Just dropping in from the blog hop and expanding my "to watch" list yet again.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and valuing my list. Much appreciated!

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  16. I don't believe I've seen a single one of your top 10 movies! Oh the shame! :)

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    1. I don't think you're the only one and there's nothing wrong with that. Just think of it as ten great ways to spend a Sunday evening.

      Thanks for leaving a comment :)

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  17. I agree that a black and white comedy should be on the list, but my choice is Bringing Up Baby. My top ten favorite movies in alphabetical order are Braveheart, Bringing Up Baby, Forrest Gump, Innerspace, L.A. Confidential, Magnolia, On the Waterfront, Psycho, Purple Rose of Cairo and Singin in the Rain.

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