Skip to main content
Report this ad


Still frame from Jean-Luc Godard's "Week End" (1967)
Still frame from Jean-Luc Godard's "Week End" (1967)
New Yorker Video

It is with mixed emotions that I report that this will be my last article for

I am leaving my muse, the cinema, to pursue other endeavors in the art of journalism.

But the movies – my first and everlasting love – will forever hold my sway.

Most of what I know today I learned from the movies. In middle school – and even high school – American history consisted of the day the Pilgrims landed to the moment when the Confederate Army surrendered to the Union. Everything else – the War to End All Wars, the Second World War, the Cold War, Vietnam – was shelved for the inevitable next year, which proved to be as elusive as the Great American Novel or the Next Citizen Kane.

Movies are often criticized for being historically inaccurate or for omitting important historical details, but I would argue that there is no better starting point to learn a little bit about a lot of things. I knew next to nothing about World War I until I watched All Quiet on the Western Front. The Great Depression was a great enigma until I saw The Grapes of Wrath. Modern Greek history was all Greek to me until I discovered Theo Angelopoulos.

There is no greater art form than the cinema for showing the cultural mores of a particular era. Books can describe popular trends and paintings can offer representations of fashion tastes, but one needs only to watch any given movie made and set in the 1950s – regardless of topic – to learn how people lived, dressed, and acted during that decade.

The cinema taught me about life. It taught me about death. It taught me how to be a man, and what it means to be a woman.

Movies got me through hard times. When I was living in a flooded basement flat in Bellingham, Wash., with no oven, no natural light and no cable, a VCR and a few VHS tapes gave me hope. When I was unemployed in Seattle and knew not a single person in a city of 600,000, a Scarecrow Video membership was my only form of entertainment. When I nearly died in a car accident and was incapacitated for several months, a steady diet of films nursed me back to health.

And the movies were there in good times, too. Like the time I saw Rear Window in Manhattan and Mean Streets in Brooklyn on the same day. Or the first date my wife and I ever had. We saw Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. I remember nothing about the movie. All I know is that I sat to her left, and it was the first time in my life when the presence of beautiful women on the screen had no effect on me.

I would like to thank all of my subscribers and casual readers for following this column for the past two and a half years. It has been a pleasure to share my observations on the current cinema and my insights on the history of an art form I have been studying since I was 15.

I leave you with a series of lists, because everyone seems to like lists. The following are my choices for the top five movies of every genre I could think of off the top of my head, concluding with my personal top five movies of all-time. The last is a list that has remained constant for the past decade, but which is subject to change at any time.

That’s the beauty of the cinema. You never know when you will see a movie that will change your life forever.

Top 5 Westerns:

The Searchers (1956, John Ford)

Rio Bravo (1959, Howard Hawks)

Man of the West (1958, Anthony Mann)

Seven Men from Now (1956, Budd Boetticher)

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971, Robert Altman)

Top 5 Musicals:

Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly)

The Merry Widow (1934, Ernst Lubitsch)

Top Hat (1935, Mark Sandrich)

The Band Wagon (1953, Vincente Minnelli)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964, Jacques Demy)

Top 5 War Movies:

The Thin Red Line (1998, Terrence Malick)

The Big Red One (1980, Samuel Fuller)

Men in War (1957, Anthony Mann)

Paths of Glory (1957, Stanley Kubrick)

The Steel Helmet (1951, Samuel Fuller)

Top 5 Comedies:

The General (1927, Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman)

City Lights (1931, Charles Chaplin)

The Awful Truth (1937, Leo McCarey)

His Girl Friday (1940, Howard Hawks)

Duck Soup (1933, Leo McCarey)

Top 5 Romances:

In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-wai)

Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)

Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean)

The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)

The Shop Around the Corner (1940, Ernst Lubitsch)

Top 5 Adventure Movies:

Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Howard Hawks)

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, David Lean)

The Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)

The Wages of Fear (1953, Henri-Georges Clouzot)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962, David Lean)

Top 5 Film Noirs:

The Third Man (1949, Carol Reed)

Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder)

Pickup on South Street (1953, Samuel Fuller)

Out of the Past (1947, Jacques Tourneur)

Act of Violence (1949, Fred Zinnemann)

Top 5 Detective/Cop Movies:

Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski)

The Big Heat (1953, Fritz Lang)

The Big Sleep (1946, Howard Hawks)

Night Moves (1975, Arthur Penn)

The French Connection (1971, William Friedkin)

Top 5 Gangster/Crime Movies:

Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese)

The Godfather & The Godfather Part II (1972, 1974, Francis Ford Coppola)

Scarface (1932, Howard Hawks)

Heat (1995, Michael Mann)

The Public Enemy (1931, William A. Wellman)

Top 5 Suspense/Horror Movies:

Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

M (1931, Fritz Lang)

Nosferatu (1922, F.W. Murnau)

Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)

The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)

Top 5 Political Thrillers:

The Parallax View (1974, Alan J. Pakula)

The Manchurian Candidate (1962, John Frankenheimer)

All the President’s Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula)

The Ghost Writer (2010, Roman Polanski)

Three Days of the Condor (1976, Sydney Pollack)

Top 5 Science Fiction Movies:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)

Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, Don Siegel)

The Thing from Another World (1951, Christian Nyby)

Alphaville (1965, Jean-Luc Godard)

Top 5 Road Movies:

Kings of the Road (1976, Wim Wenders)

Stranger Than Paradise (1984, Jim Jarmusch)

Paris, Texas (1984, Wim Wenders)

The Passenger (1975, Michelangelo Antonioni)

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, Monte Hellman)

My Personal Top 5 Movies of All-Time:

Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Howard Hawks)

Late Spring (1949, Yasujiro Ozu)

Kings of the Road (1976, Wim Wenders)

Mean Streets (1973, Martin Scorsese)

Dedicated to Wakako, Junko, Naotaka, Megumi, Daichi, Noriko, Kien, Kota, Kaito and Turbo, who welcomed me into their homes and made the writing of this article possible.



Report this ad