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Office Christmas Party

Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

Films on fire: Tony Scott and Christopher Nolan

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"A man can be an artist ... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece." -- Rayburn (Christopher Walken), "Man on Fire" (2004)

While I've never been a fan of the late Tony Scott or Christopher Nolan, a few thoughtful articles in recent days have helped me see them in new lights, and got me to thinking about their resemblances as well as their dissimilarities. Several appreciations of Scott (especially those by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Bilge Ebiri, David Edelstein and Manohla Dargis), along with David Bordwell's incisive essay on Christopher Nolan ("Nolan vs. Nolan") got me to thinking about the common assumptions about these popular filmmakers, both of whom are known for quick, impressionistic imagery, intercut scenes, slam-bang action and a CGI-averse insistence on photographing the real world.¹ Regardless of what you ultimately make of their work, there's no question they've done it their way.

This is an attempt to look at both filmmakers through the prism of others' points of view, refracted in critical appraisals like the above.

Of course, Scott and Nolan have passionate admirers and detractors. Until Scott's shocking suicide last week (from a bridge, a landmark that figures hauntingly in the climaxes of several of his movies), I wasn't aware of many critics who championed his movies, but with a few exceptions the obits seem to have been more admiring than the reviews over the years -- understandably, under the sad circumstances.

Those who applaud Scott and Nolan's films see them as genre boundary-pushers (thrillers, action pictures, science-fiction, superhero movies); those who denigrate them see them as symptomatic of the debasement of resonant imagery in modern Hollywood movies. Both have been subjected to that worst of all critical insults, comparisons to Michael Bay:

"'Inception' may have been directed by Christopher Nolan, but Nolan's dreams are apparently directed by Michael Bay." -- Andrew O'Hehir, "Inception: A clunky, overblown disappointment"

"If it sounds like I'm describing Michael Bay, that's because I sort of am. What we like to think of today as the Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer aesthetic was, in fact, originally the Tony Scott aesthetic (often deployed in films made for Bruckheimer and his late partner Don Simpson). Only back then there was a lot more art to it." -- Bilge Ebiri, "To Control Something That's Out of Control: On Tony Scott"

One of Scott's notable defenders has been The New York Times' Manohla Dargis. She identifies him as a "maximalist" who used "a lot of everything in his movies: smoke, cuts, camera moves, color. This kind of stylistic, self-conscious excess could be glorious, as in his underappreciated film 'Domino' (2005)," which Roger Ebert also somewhat grudgingly admired, quoting a character to describe the movie itself as having "the attention span of a ferret on crystal meth." Dargis writes:

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The great movies (almost) nobody voted for

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OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.

I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.

It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.

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The best greatest movies ever list

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UPDATED (08/01/12): Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see my first impressions of the newly announced critics' and directors' poll results.

Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) topped the first Sight & Sound critics' poll in 1952, only four years after it was first released, dropped to #7 in 1962, and then disappeared from the top ten never to be seen again. (In 2002 only five of the 145 participating critics voted for it.) Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) flopped in its initial release but was rediscovered in the 1950s after RKO licensed its films to television in 1956. From 1962 to 2002 "Kane" has remained at the top of the poll (46 critics voted for it last time). This year, a whopping 846 top-ten ballots (mentioning 2,045 different titles) were counted, solicited from international "critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" -- including bloggers and other online-only writers. Sight & Sound has announced it will live-tweet the 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" (@SightSoundmag #sightsoundpoll) August 1, and as I write this the night before, I of course don't know the results. But, for now at least, I'm more interested in the process.

Given the much wider and younger selection of voters in 2012, ist-watchers have been speculating: Will another movie (leading candidate: Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," number 2 in 2002) supplant "Kane" at the top of the list? Will there be any silent films in the top 10? (Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" and Murnau's "Sunrise" tied for #7 on the 2002 list, but the latter was released in 1927 with a Fox Movietone sound-on-film musical score and sound effects.)

Though there's been no rule about how much time should pass between a film's initial release and its eligibility (the Library of Congress's National Film Registry requires that selections be at least ten years old), most of the selections ten to have stood the test of time for at least a decade or two. The newest film on the 2002 list was the combination of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) -- but they won't be allowed to count as one title for 2012.

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"There's a fungus between my toes that speaks to me."

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by Barbara Scharres

Cannes has become hot and uncomfortably muggy in a way that has me thinking longingly of the blankets and socks of earlier in the week. As the festival closes in on the final days, I'm hoping for some big excitement on the screen.

When the stiff, futuristic Brandon Cronenberg film "Antiviral" played a few days ago, it gave me cause to look forward even more to today's premiere of "Cosmopolis" by his father David Cronenberg, anticipating that the contrast between generations would also point up the difference between a wannabe and a seasoned master. Boy, was I wrong. I'm sorry to say that they're both among the worst films I've seen here this year. I've never been this disappointed in a David Cronenberg film.

"Cosmopolis" opens with a shot of a row of white stretch limos parked on a city street. The interior of one of them will become a primary location in this film, functioning as the office away from the office for mega-millionaire money manager Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), an arrogant and powerful 28-year-old. Seemingly inspired by the Occupy movement in the U. S., the story is set in New York in the near future (although what we see of the urban landscape never looks like anything but Toronto; even the CN Tower is seen in the background). The president of the United States is due at any moment, a situation tying up the streets with blockades and large-scale protests.

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Top secret leakage from my 2010 Muriels ballot!

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It's a wrap for the 2010 Muriel Awards, but although the winners have been announced, there's still plenty of great stuff to read about the many winners and runners-up. ('Cause, as we all know, there's so much more to life than "winning.") I was pleased to be asked to write the mini-essay about "The Social Network" because, no, I'm not done with it. (Coming soon: a piece about the Winkelvii at the Henley Gregatta section -- which came in 11th among Muriel voters for the year's Best Cinematic Moment.)

You might recall that last summer I compared the editorial, directorial and storytelling challenges of a modest character-based comedy ("The Kids Are All Right") to a large-scale science-fiction spectacular based on the concept of shifting between various levels of reality/unreality -- whether in actual time and space or in consciousness and imagination. (The latter came in at No. 13 in the Muriels balloting; the former in a tie for No. 22.) My point was that, as far as narrative filmmaking is concerned, there isn't much difference. To illustrate a similar comparison this time, I've used a one-minute segment out of "The Social Network" (Multiple levels of storytelling in The Social Network). You might like one picture better than the other for any number of reasons, but I find their similarities more illuminating than their differences:

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#50 February 16, 2011

Behold a most wondrous find...."The Shop that time Forgot" Elizabeth and Hugh. Every inch of space is crammed with shelving. Some of the items still in their original wrappers from the 1920s. Many goods are still marked with pre-decimal prices."There's a shop in a small village in rural Scotland which still sells boxes of goods marked with pre-decimal prices which may well have been placed there 80 years ago. This treasure trove of a hardware store sells new products too. But its shelves, exterior haven't changed for years; its contents forgotten, dust-covered and unusual, branded with the names of companies long since out of business. Photographer Chris Frears has immortalized this shop further on film..." - Matilda Battersby. To read the full story, visit the Guardian.  And visit here to see more photos of the shop and a stunning shot of Morton Castle on the homepage for Photographer Chris Fears.

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#14 June 9, 2010

From the Grand Poobah: Our Far-Flung Correspondent Gerardo Valero writes: During Ebertfest, Monica and I were able to shoot a few videos which I downloaded in you tube and which I think you all may enjoy. Since she was the one to shoot most of the panel videos; they mostly consist of my own participation but there's plenty of stuff for everybody (our multiple presentations, dinner at the Green Room and what have you) I apologize in advance for the quality of the material. I tell Monica she would be fired from filming a Bourne movie because her cinematography is too shaky. Go HERE to see all the videos.Marie writes: this one is my favorite!  Roger and Chaz at Stake n' Shake!

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You better you better you best: The better of the best lists

If all the year-end and decade-end lists (even though we realize the decade isn't actually over until 2011) have left you dizzied and depleted, take heart! Perhaps you've missed out on some of the more invigorating, far-sighted list-based ventures. Over at Some Came Running, for example, Glenn Kenny conducted an ingenious and fascinating project, going back and taking a look at the late Manny Farber's Best Films of 1951. Meanwhile, at The Crop Duster, Robert Horton is engaged in surveying the year's best -- in non-chronological order -- from, oh, about 1919 or so, to the present, posting a new list every Sunday. What fantastic delights are to be found in these itemized accounts...

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Name That Director!

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Click above to REALLY enlarge...

UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...

Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.

In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)

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Pimples like us

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Q. Watching "Juno" again, I think I've figured out why the story is bookended with a motif of chairs. Juno narrates her story beginning with "It started with a chair," and we gaze upon a big, worn-out, comfortable-looking chair. Near the end, she tells us "It ended with a chair," and we see a different chair, this time, a lovely slimmer, not-so-comfortable rocking chair. These two things illustrate the journey our hero has taken, that our security blanket in childhood becomes not so comfortable when our eyes are open to the realities of the world. Jerry Roberts, Birmingham, Ala.

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Movies that allow you some breathing room

View image Ramin Bahrani on the set of "Chop Shop."

Ramin Bahrani's first two features, "Man Push Cart" and "Chop Shop," live and breathe like few other films these days. (That's why they're two of my favorites of the current century.)

In an interview at IFC Blog, Bahrani gives a beautiful description of the kinds of movies he values -- and, in the process, indicates what makes him such a fine filmmaker. Of course, I also happen to feel the same way about movies, so no wonder I like his so much: Film is really 24 frames a second in the present, and I realize when you leave certain gaps, it allows space for the viewer to enter the film. That requires a viewer who wants to be engaged, who wants to have an emotional connection to a film, which should not be confused with films that elicit emotions like weeping and whatnot. You watch a certain movie, and the director puts you in a headlock through ways of dramaturgy, music, camera moves and excessive acting. It hits certain synapses in your brain and makes you cry, then you leave, and the next day you're having a hamburger and you don't really remember what the film was. Despite that those are the kinds of films that get lots of accolades and attention, it doesn't attract me as a person nor as an artist. I'm more interested in the ones — because of your participation — [that] seep into you, and two months later, are still a part of you. I don't know if I've accomplished this, but it's what I'm striving for.What he describes -- that space that allows the viewer to enter the film -- is a quality I particularly treasured when going through "No Country for Old Men" with the audience at the Conference on World Affairs last week. Although the first time you see it you're aware of pulse-pounding tension, suspense and unforseen eruptions of violence, the movie is really full of breathing room. Long wordless sequences encourage you to get inside the heads of the characters and see things through their eyes, to experience what they're thinking and feeling moment by moment: the opening sequence (which I played once without sound so we could simply look at the progression of images, then see and how they play off of Ed Tom's voiceover); Lleweylyn following the trail of blood to the two trees in the desert; Llewelyn methodically assembling the tools he will need to place the satchel in the vent; Chigurh tending to his wounds in the motel bathroom...

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Pulp Fiction: Nothing serious?

View image Genre picture? Marketing label?

Charles McGrath wonders if critics and the public give genre work enough credit. In "Great Literature? Depends Whodunit," published in Sunday's New York Times, McGrath makes a case for pulp fiction that applies to movies as well as to literature. Often behind the generic labeling, he says, is: ... the assumption that genre fiction — mysteries, thrillers, romances, horror stories — is a form of literary slumming. These kinds of books are easier to read, we tend to think, and so they must be easier to write, and to the degree that they’re entertaining, they can’t possibly be “serious.”

The distinction between highbrow and lowbrow — between genre writing and literary writing — is actually fairly recent. Dickens, as we’re always being reminded, wrote mysteries and horror stories, only no one thought to call them that. Jane Austen wrote chick lit. A whiff of shamefulness probably began attaching itself to certain kinds of fiction — and to mysteries and thrillers especially — at the end of the 19th century, with the rise of the “penny dreadful,” or cheaply printed serial. The market and public appetite for this stuff became even larger in the early years of the 20th century with the tremendous growth of pulp magazines, which specialized in the genres and eventually even added a new one: science fiction. I think of genre conventions as something akin to sonata form in music, or the chord progressions from a popular standard that jazz musicians may use as a foundation. The familiar prototype is just that: a recognizable structure upon which a craftsperson (even an artist) can create almost anything at all -- even turn it inside out or blow it apart.

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Elected: 100 Must-See Foreign Films

Kenji Mizoguchi's "Sansho Dayu" (aka "Sansho the Bailiff").

The ballots came in from all over the web. Edward Copeland tabulated them (and found nice stills for all the winners), under the supervision of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Jimmy Carter. OK, I don't know about that last part, but Edward did some great good work here.

He's calling it "The Satyajit Ray Memorial Anything-But-Definitive List of Non-English Language Films." Copeland writes: "The name comes, of course, from the great Indian director who failed to land any of his acclaimed works on the final list of 122 nominees."

In all 174 people chose their top 25-or-so non-English-language talkies made before 2002 (nominees had to be at least five years old). The Top 100 is here -- accompanied by comments from people who chose them. (Comments and vote totals for the other 22 nominees are here.)

My top choice was Kenji Mizoguchi's "Sansho Dayu" (which came in at #46 and is available on a Criterion DVD), about which I wrote: If I had to choose just one movie –- one movie –- above all others on this list, Mizoguchi's would be it. I've long felt that if there were a god, the closest expression we're likely to find on this earth is in this movie. It's not the only film on my list that gives me goosebumps whenever the title is mentioned, but I don't believe there's ever been a greater motion picture in any language. This one sees life and memory as a creek flowing into a lake out into a river and to the sea.That seems a little florid to me now (it was the night before I left for Toronto, and I was trying to tie together the imagery in the first and last shots of a masterpiece), but the emotions, and the awe, are genuine.

Here's the Top 25:

1. "The Rules of the Game" (Jean Renoir) 2. "Seven Samurai" (Akira Kurosawa) 3. "M" (Fritz Lang) 4. "8 1/2" (Federico Fellini) 5. "Bicycle Thieves" (Vittorio De Sica) 6. "Persona" (Ingmar Bergman) 7. "Grand Illusion" (Jean Renoir) 8. "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (Werner Herzog) 9. "The Battle of Algiers" (Gillo Pontecorvo) 10. "The 400 Blows" (Francois Truffaut) 11. "Fanny and Alexander" (Ingmar Bergman) 12. "Tokyo Story" (Yasujiro Ozu) 13. "Rashomon" (Akira Kurosawa) 14. "Ikiru" (Akira Kurosawa) 15. "The Seventh Seal" (Ingmar Bergman) 16. "Ran" (Akira Kurosawa) 17. "Jules and Jim" (Francois Truffaut) 18. "The Conformist" (Bernardo Bertolucci) 19. "La Dolce Vita" (Federico Fellini) 20. "Contempt" (Jean-Luc Godard) 21. "Breathless" (Jean-Luc Godard) 22. "Ugetsu Monogatari" (Kenji Mizoguchi) 23. "Playtime" (Jacques Tati) 24. "Au Hasard, Balthazar" (Robert Bresson) 25. "Andrei Rublev" (Andrei Tarkovsky)

(continued...)

Bad news: "Amelie" made the list (though only at #92). Good news: "Life is Beautiful" (which isn't) wasn't even nominated!

Stop wasting your life. Get watching.

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The 100 Greatest Directors of... what?

View image Number 74.

I was not familiar with TotalFilm.com, until I spotted a link over at Movie City News.

Thanks a lot, guys.

The link was to a pair of articles listing Total Film's choices for "The Greatest Directors Ever" Part 1 (100 - 49) and Part 2 (50 - 1).

Will I return to this site? I think probably not. Why am I linking to it now? Because it's my shameless attempt to stimulate discussion, which I hope will be on a more informed level than this list. Or maybe it's just to have a laugh. Or a moment of sadness. What do I think of the list itself? Well, let's see:

Baz Luhrmann is #97.

Tony Scott is #74, just edging out Milos Forman, Kenji Mizoguchi, Satyajit Ray, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Buster Keaton, who comes in at #88.

Bryan Singer is #65, two slots below Robert Bresson, who immediately follows Sam Raimi.

Rob Reiner is #35.

Michael Mann (#28) is on the list, but Anthony Mann is not.

Bernardo Bertolucci is... not on the list.

Otto Preminger is... not on the list.

Richard Lester is... not on the list.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is... not on the list.

Max Ophuls is... not on the list.

George Cukor is... not on the list, but George Lucas (#95) is.

Andrei Tarkovsky is... not on the list.

Eric Rohmer is... not on the list.

Claude Chabrol is... not on the list.

Luchino Visconti is... not on the list.

Vittorio De Sica is... not on the list.

Michelangelo Antonioni is... not on the list. Not even the top 100.

What's worse are the little names they have for each director. Sophia Coppola (#99) is "The dreamer" ("Dreamy, brave and cool, this Coppola is doing it for herself"). Singer is "The new Spielberg." Robert Altman (#26) is "The outsider" -- oops, but so is Hal Ashby (#58). Somebody ran out of labels. Well, at least they are not outside all alone; they are outside together. Sam Fuller (#50) is "The hack." Mike Leigh (#49) is "The grouch." Quentin Tarantino (#12) is "The motormouth."

OK, that's enough. Have at it if you feel like it. If you don't feel like it, you'll probably live.

ADDENDUM: A reader, spleendonkey, describes TotalFilm as a British magazine aimed at teens and pre-teens, designed to broaden their film horizons. For the record, here's the mag's description of itself on its subscription page:In 2007, Total Film celebrates its tenth year of being the only film magazine that nails a monthly widescreen shot of the whole movie landscape. It’s the essential guide for anyone who’s passionate about movies - whether they’re into Cruise or Cusack, Hollywood or Bollywood, multiplex or arthouse, popcorn or - er - sweetcorn. Each issue is pumped full of reviews, news, features and celebrity interviews on all the latest cinema releases. The all-new home entertainment section, Lounge, is the ultimate one-stop-shop for everything you should care about in the churning world of DVDs, books, videogames and, occasionally, film-related novelty furniture. The mag regularly features highly desirable, Ebay-friendly FREE stuff - exclusive film cells, posters, postcards, DVDs… We’re currently in discussions with Health & Safety operatives about sticking a magical compass to the cover when "His Dark Materials" comes out. Subscribe to Total Film now, or forever be belittled by precocious children in discussions about what’s best and worst in movieland.Doesn't sound all that different from Entertainment Weekly to me, but there you go...

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The "Best" Non-English-Language Films (Round 1)

View image Wim Wenders' "Kings of the Road" (or literal English translation: "In the Course of Time"). You may recognize the poster image from outside the theater in which "Duck Soup" is playing in Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters." This movie can also save your life.

An ad hoc bunch of 51 online movie enthusiasts (online movie critics, bloggers, et al.), organized by Edward Copeland, the eponymous proprietor of "Edward Copeland on Film," recently composed our unordered lists of up to 25 most significant (or enduring or even favorite) "foreign-language" talkies.

Eduardo (as he might be known in, say, Mexico or Spain or Uruguay or Nicaragua or Puerto Rico) took on the gargantuan task of tabulating the ballots and coming up with the initial list of 122 nominees. As he explains: I set a few guidelines for eligibility: 1) No film more recent than 2002 was eligible; 2) They had to be feature length; 3) They had to have been made either mostly or entirely in a language other than English; 4) Documentaries and silent films were ineligible, though I made do lists for those in the future if this goes well. In all, 434 films received votes, not counting those that had to be disqualified for not meeting the criteria.In order to make the final ballot, films had to receive at least three "votes." I'm happy that most of my initial choices made the finals. And there were five I've never seen, so I have these to look forward to: Elem Klimov's "Come and See," Sergio Corbucci's "The Great Silence" (a spaghetti western), Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood For Love," Bela Tarr's 7.5-hour "Satantango," and Hayao Miyazaki's anime "Spirited Away." (And I've never made it all the way through "Amelie" or "Chungking Express.")

This exercise also reminded me of a bunch of movies I need to re-watch, because it's been too long (at least 20 years) and I don't remember them very well, including: Jacques Rivette's "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (always hard to see, but available on Region 2 DVD, at least), Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Days of Wrath," Lucino Visconti's "The Leopard," Kenji Mizoguchi's "The Story of the Late Crysanthemums" (and, for that matter, "The Life of Oharu," which deserved to be on the list and which I have on import DVD), and Edward Yang's "Yi Yi" (which I've been meaning to revisit since his untimely death).

Best of all, the list serves as a reminder that the vast majority of these films, available on DVD, are easier to see now than they have ever been since they were made! Most are just as easy to borrow from NetFlix as "Wild Hogs."

For my Own Personal List, and some observations about the preliminary results, click to continue...

Meanwhile, if any of the participants -- or any readers -- would like to publish their own lists, please feel free to do so in comments! I'll show you mine if...

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