Screening Now: An Alphabetical List of Several Dozen Films

One often finds lists of the “essential” films, the most important films, the Top 100, etc. Sometimes the rankings will take you from the bottom of the list to the top (100, 99, 98…..4, 3, 2, 1); others lists make you wonder how film number 88 could deserve to be so far away from the top 10.

I have set aside any estimate of the film’s comparative worth to other films other than to insist that the following films should be viewed by anyone who wants to have an understanding of how cinema has: a) shaped the social imaginary; and (b) had its reproductions of social life mutated by ideological imperatives far removed from the ticket booth window. My recommendation is that any young person just beginning to learn about cinema should watch the following films in alphabetical order. The advantage is that will be forced to shift one’s intellectual and emotional moodalities to fit the film’s temperamental poetics.

One will note a much larger percentage of comedies in this list than is usually featured. These kinds of lists all too often attempt to establish their cultural gravitas by invoking the most solemn aspects of human awareness. In canonical assessments, laughter is regarded as self-indulgence. I have further pushed against the expectations of this kind of listing by including films that are “pop” culture fare. In doing so, sI remember a book by Anthony Burgess in which he didn’t hesitate to include Ian Fleming as among the authors that he would include in a top 100 novelists survey.

I like to think that the late Elmore Leonard would enjoy reading my list, even if he would not be willing to sit through all, or even most of, these films. No doubt he would wonder why “Seven Samurai” isn’t on the list. The default list that shadows mine should be fairly obvious to anyone who knows cinema as well as I know poetry. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the history of cinema or even to possess more than an amateur appreciation of this art form. I can already hear the hoots of disdain for many of my choices. All the better! You are indeed entitled to jeer if you, in turn, can finish reading the list and then immediately provide me — without consulting any books or referring to any other lists — with the titles of three films as different as “Little Fugitive”; “Mare’s Tale”; and “Freeze, Die, Come to Life.” The three films must come from three different decades. If you can do that, then send me your list and I will post it in my blog. I reserve the right to post a list, even if you can’t meet that criteria, so send along your choices.



Aguirre, The Wrath of God

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Apollo 13

Au Hasard Balthasar

Bad Sleep Well, The

Battle of Algiers, The

Bed, The (1968; James Broughton)

Being John Malkovich

Belle et La Bete, La

Best Years of Our Lives, The

Bicycle Thieves


Black Panther

Black Stallion, The


Blazing Saddles

Blue (1993; directed and written by Derek Jarman)

Blue Angel, The

Burmese Harp, The

Casino Royale (remake, with Daniel Craig)

Children of Paradise

Citizen Kane


Dark Crystal, The

Defending Your Life

Dîner de Cons, Le (Dinner Game, The)

Do the Right Thing

Don’t Look Now

Don’t Look Up

Dr. Strangelove

Escape from Alcatraz


Field of Dreams

Fish Named Wanda, A


French Connection, The

Freeze, Die, Come to Life

Get Out!

Godfather, The (Part One)

Godfather, The (Part Two)

Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, The

High Noon


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the first version)

Jules and Jim

Killer of Sheep

King of Masks

L.A. Confidential

La Dolce Vita

L’ATALANTE (Jean Vigo, who also directed Zero du Conduit)

Little Fugitive


Man in the Moon, The

Man with a Movie Camera

Mare’s Tale

Midnight Cowboy

Mighty Aphrodite


My Life as a Dog




Nine to Five

Onion Field, The

Only the Lonely

Open City

Over the Edge

Pee-Wee’s Great Adventure

Passion of Joan of Arc, The


Player, The


Salt of the Earth

Seance on a Wet Afternoon


Sleepless in Seattle

Some Like It Hot

Sopranos, The

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

Station Agent, The

Straight Outta Compton

Sullivan’s Travels


Sunset Blvd.

Taxi Driver

Terminator, Part I

Terminator, Part 2

Truman Show, The

Usual Suspects, The


Wizard of Oz



Kevin Opstedal sent me the titles of some films to add to this list this morning, and I am wasting no time in doing so. Thank you, Kevin. “Repo Man” was a title I thought of adding shorting after I posted the list, and I heartily second his nomination. In Kevin’s iteration, he suggests watching them as trilogies.

Three films/Two sets (nominated by Kevin Opstedal)
Cisco Pike (1972)
The Wages of Fear (1953)
Down By Law (1986)
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Repo Man (1984)
The Killing (1956)


Taryn Boyle nominated:

Tampopo – Juzo Itami
Cria Cuervos – Carlos Saura
The Mirror – Tarkovsky
Our Little Sister – Hirokazu Kore-eda
Léon: The Professional – Luc Besson

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