The 100 Best Movies on Video
The VCR changed everything about the way we watch movies. Instead of rushing to the theater to catch the latest release — or eagerly awaiting the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz (No. 88) — video means watching what you please whenever you please. No longer stuck with the movie playing on TV or at the local movie house, now we can browse among classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age, last year’s theatrical smashes, or shamelessly entertaining exploitation junk with equal ease.
Great movies don’t always make great video — on the small screen Lawrence of Arabia (1962) looks like an insurrection on an ant farm and it isn’t on our list. More often, though, video allows movies overlooked in theatrical release, such as David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (No. 58), to find their true audience. And video gives that audience new ways to look at movies — with remote in hand you can replay a crucial scene, catch an errant line of dialogue, or even skip over the slow spots. To help choose the 100 movies most worth seeing at home, Entertainment Weekly asked some of America’s leading movie critics to vote for their video favorites. The envelope, please…
1. The Godfather 1902-1959: The Complete Epic(1977)
Nobody expected a film version of Mario Puzo’s gangland novel The Godfather to be more than a bloody pulp melodrama — except perhaps director Francis Ford Coppola, who created a tragic extended metaphor for the downside of the American Dream. Visually stunning, impeccably acted, and emotionally overwhelming, the two Godfathers are available in one reedited, chronological video version (386 minutes). But in any form, they’re exactly what Paramount’s ad hype suggested back in ’72: ”Everybody’s Masterpiece.”
2. Citizen Kane (1941)
Orson Welles’ tour de force about a newspaper tycoon who does everyone dirt is the ultimate tale of loneliness at the top. It changed the grammar of movies, making the camera as eloquent as any actor. Kane’s famous dying word, ”Rosebud,” isn’t actually heard by anyone onscreen, so the reporter’s effort to find out what he meant by it (the device that drives the movie) is either a big joke or a glaring oversight. We’ll never know.
3. Raging Bull (1980)
Director Martin Scorsese believes video helped keep this movie fresh enough in critics’ minds for most of them to name it one of the top 10 films of the ’80s. Robert De Niro won an Oscar for his portrayal of Jake LaMotta, the tormented boxing champ who was as prone to violence outside the ring as in.
4. Blue Velvet (1986)
Before the derivative Twin Peaks, director David Lynch and star Kyle MacLachlan were best known for this rabid oddity, a bizarrely sensational murder mystery that defies easy comprehension. It is both perfect for video — its dense imagery begs for repeat viewings — and poorly suited to it — the edges of Lynch’s wide-screen images get hacked off in the tape version. (Warner’s new disc version will be ”letterboxed” to keep the original shape.)
5. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Stanley Kubrick’s nuclear black comedy is also the funniest assault ever made on the assumptions of the Cold War. With Sterling Hayden in his most memorable performance (as Gen. Jack D. Ripper) and Peter Sellers in three roles, including the Kissinger-like doctor of the title.
6. Vertigo (1958)
Vertigo cuts closer to the bone than any other Hitchcock thriller. James Stewart becomes obsessed with a woman he has been hired to follow, and his investigation of her death veers dangerously close to madness. MCA’s video version beautifully preserves the original’s dreamlike Technicolor intensity.
7. Chinatown (1974)
Jack Nicholson investigates corruption and Faye Dunaway in ’30s Los Angeles: On the surface, it’s another of those trendy hardboiled-detective revamps that everybody made in the ’70s. But director Roman Polanski took the genre so far into the dark that Hollywood has been backing away from its wormy truths ever since.
Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
The inexplicably underrated Joel McCrea stars as a director of successful but silly Hollywood pictures. He yearns to make serious message movies and hits the road to see how the other half lives. The result? Not just the best movie ever about filmmakers, but the funniest and wisest of the great string of comedies by Preston Sturges.
9. The General (1927)
Buster Keaton’s hilarious meditation on the Civil War is, among other treasures, a Mathew Brady photograph come to life and one of the purest pieces of visual comedy ever committed to celluloid. Unlike a number of shoddy video versions, HBO’s tape is struck from a pristine original print and comes with a fabulous orchestral score.
10. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
The Citizen Kane follow-up that turned Orson Welles from Boy Genius to Misunderstood Genius. Welles adapted Booth Tarkington’s sprawling novel of a family’s decline into an emotional epic, but the studio shortened the film into something much more prosaic. Still, Ambersons has moments that make other films seem klutzy.
11. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Warren Beatty is Clyde Barrow and Faye Dunaway, fondling a revolver, is Bonnie Parker. They rob banks. Audiences in 1967 were shocked by Bonnie and Clyde‘s slow-motion violence. Today’s audiences may be more shocked by its tenderness.
12. Taxi Driver (1976)
Martin Scorsese’s merciless view of New York is too grim to be entirely realistic, but Robert De Niro’s extraordinary portrayal of a deranged cabbie makes for an unforgettable experience. Jodie Foster is chillingly convincing as a teenybopper prostitute.
Caveat: This budget reissue tape is of lower quality than the original RCA/Columbia version.
13. Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen’s landmark comedy pits New York against Los Angeles more effectively than any film before or since, but he’s most funny and incisive when he delves into the dangers of dating. Diane Keaton plays the perfect romantic foil to Allen’s nebbish.
14. The Seven Samurai (1954)
Everybody who haunts the Action section of the video store should see this. Director Akira Kurosawa applied the techniques of Hollywood Westerns to his story of 16th-century Japanese warriors. But in the complexity of his characters and the sheer dazzle of his battle scenes, he outdid all models. Inspired The Magnificent Seven.
15. The Palm Beach Story (1942)
In Preston Sturges’ most out-of-control comedy, newlyweds Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea fight and get back together with help from a rich geek played by former teen dream Rudy Vallee, their own twins, and gun-happy members of the Ale and Quail Club. If you think old movies can’t be sexy, check out Colbert and McCrea’s steamy scenes together.
16. Duck Soup (1933)
The Marx Brothers’ most surreal blast of anarchy. A flop in 1933, the film was rediscovered by ’60s audiences who delighted in its ferociously absurd mugging of political pomposity.
Scene to rewind: The mirror sequence, which is still among the funniest three minutes in movies.
17. Psycho (1960)
Three decades and two sequels later, Hollywood has never recaptured the disturbing, intangible something that makes this Alfred Hitchcock flick the definitive horror picture. (On video, the truly obsessed can analyze that shower scene frame by bloody frame.)
18. Double Indemnity (1944)
Grade-A Hollywood sleaze from two grade-A Hollywood cynics, novelist James M. Cain and director Billy Wilder. Fred MacMurray has the role of his life as the small-time insurance salesman, and Barbara Stanwyck is all brass and cheap perfume as the bored tootsie who persuades him to kill her husband. A million movies have ripped off the plot, but none of them — not even 1981’s Body Heat — has captured the original’s seamy erotic thrill.
19. All About Eve (1950)
Bette Davis was never better than this — the volatile, vulnerable Margo Channing, an aging actress whose career and romance are theatened by Eve (Anne Baxter), a mousy girl who turns out to be a rat. Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz races the movie along on some of the bitchiest banter ever written for the screen.
20. The Rules of the Game (1939)
Jean Renoir’s intricate tragicomedy about a hunting weekend at a chateau where everyone’s life, from the gamekeeper’s to the host’s, is in crucial transition.
21. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Director Billy Wilder’s blackest joke is cast like a cruel funhouse mirror: Aging silent film star Gloria Swanson plays the aging silent film star Norma Desmond, who enlists a hack writer (William Holden) as lover and coconspirator in a demented comeback bid. Sunset Boulevard peers behind Hollywood’s sunny facade to find a mansion full of bugs.
22. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
In director John Frankenheimer’s witches’ brew of absurdist comedy, political satire, and nail-biting thriller, Laurence Harvey is the GI hero brainwashed to assassinate a presidential candidate. Frank Sinatra tries to stop him, but there’s no stopping Angela Lansbury as Harvey’s malevolent mom.
23. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
James Dean defined disaffected youth in the ’50s. With that jacket, that hair, and that pout, he created a teen archetype for generations (and generation gaps) to come.
24. La Strada (1954)
Federico Fellini’s poetic account of the odd, mysterious relationship between a simpleminded waif, Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina), and a brutish circus strongman, Zampano (Anthony Quinn). Their progress through a series of tacky provincial towns is touching and memorable.
25. Aliens (1986)
The best sci-fi movie ever made. Substituting action-movie muscle for the lacquered, artsy horror of Rid-ley Scott’s 1979 original (see No. 65), writer- director James Cameron (Terminator) comes up with a movie so well crafted that one watches in awe as every piece falls into place.
26. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
A lonely boy helps a little lost alien phone home. Steven Spielberg reaches into the toy box of the subconscious and pulls out creatures from outer space, imaginary friends, flying bicycles, and a mother’s love. E.T. cinematographer Allen Daviau supervised the meticulous transfer from film to video.
27. Mean Streets (1973)
Martin Scorsese’s street-level look at a group of punks in New York’s Little Italy, childhood buddies trying to impress the local Mafiosi. Delirious colors, mad bursts of violence, moments of tenderness, and Robert De Niro snapping like a crazed pit bull.
28. The Wild Bunch (1969)
Over-the-hill Texas bandits (played by a dream cast including William Holden and Warren Oates) head to Mexico for one last score. Sam Peckinpah’s lyrical elegy is even more impressive now that we know it’s the Last Great Western. The video version restores Peckinpah’s original cut.
29. Jules and Jim (1961)
François Truffaut’s exuberant story of a ménage à trois: the essentially bourgeois Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre) and the manic, bohemian Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), whom they both love.
30. This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Rob Reiner’s hilarious spoof of rock documentaries brilliantly skewers every pretension of the music business. The perfect movie for video, Tap gets funnier on repeat viewings.
Watch for: Billy Crystal as a waiter in mime makeup; Anjelica Huston as a confused set designer.
31. Persona (1966)
In Ingmar Bergman’s puzzle box of a film, the personalities of an actress (Liv Ullmann) who goes mute during a performance of Elektra and her nurse (Bibi Andersson) eerily merge.
32. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The only movie directed by actor Charles Laughton is a brilliant, bloodcurdling fable of good and evil — and the inherent dangers of fundamentalist thinking. Robert Mitchum is the psychopathic preacher.
33. Choose Me (1984)
This hopeful collection of love stories is the ultimate litmus test for separating cynics from romantics. Six desperate, yearning oddballs, including Keith Carradine, Lesley Ann Warren, and Genevieve Bujold, collide like charged ions in the moody L.A. twilight. A deep sleeper from cult director Alan Rudolph.
34. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
An ape throws a bone in the air and — presto! — in one of film history’s most famous cuts it turns into a spaceship bobbing along to the Blue Danube waltz. Stanley Kubrick’s enigmatic, high-tech space poem offers a tough choice on video: Released in the ultra-wide-screen Cinerama format, it loses much of its image on tape. The elegant Criterion edition (letterboxed to preserve the full frame) is better, but a bit like looking at the movie through a mail slot.
35. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Richard Lester’s pseudo-cinema verité look at the Beatles hasn’t lost a bit of its freshness despite endless imitations.
36. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch, the scrupulous Southern lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape. Not only a courtroom thriller but also a gothic horror tale about the devastating effects of fear and prejudice.
37. The Red Shoes (1948)
Moira Shearer is a ballerina who, goaded by an insanely jealous impresario (Anton Walbrook), performs a ballet of the Hans Christian Anderson story in which a pair of red shoes dance their wearer to death. Still the best ballet movie ever made.
38. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Katharine Hepburn is a ditsy rich girl with a pet leopard (Baby) and a pet dog (George). The latter steals a rare dinosaur bone belonging to fuddy-duddy scientist Cary Grant — you know the rest. Directed at light speed by Howard Hawks (keep a finger on the rewind button to catch all the dialogue).
39. Apocalypse Now (1979)
A crazed Martin Sheen travels deep into the heart of darkness and meets Marlon Brando, who’s even madder. Francis Ford Coppola’s hallucinogenic epic about levels of insanity is still the Vietnam horror show to beat, whatever its flaws.
40. Casablanca (1942)
Since most viewers already know so many scenes and lines by heart, watching Casablanca on video means indulging in the most satisfying sort of nostalgia. Everything works in the this movie — from Humphrey Bogart’s cynical loner, to the slightly hokey good-guys-vs.-the Nazis plot.
41. It Happened One Night (1934)
Even its stars thought it was dumb romantic fluff, but Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night conquered the box office and became the first film to sweep the Academy Awards. Claudette Colbert is the sexily headstrong rich girl and Clark Gable the tough-nut reporter who drags her across the country and falls in love with her.
42. King Kong (1933)
A magnificent giant ape falls for a delicate blond beauty. Merian C. Cooper’s version of Beauty and the Beast may just be one of the greatest love stories ever told.
Watch for: Kong mangling lagers and fondling Fay Wray, scenes restores in Turner’s versions.
43. His Girl Friday (1940)
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell trade supersonic one-liners in Howard Hawks’ version of The Front Page. Transforming the newsroom comedy into a battle of the sexes probably seemed like a gimmick at the time, but Hawks knew what he was doing; Friday still zings.
44. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)
Taking an outrageous — if inconsistent — swipe at the Middle Ages, England’s Monty Python troupe saddles up invisible steeds to make mincemeat of Arthurian legend. A bloody good time.
45. Written in the Wind (1956)
Douglas Sirk’s melodrama of the moral decline of a Texas oil family puts Dallas to shame. Robert Stack is the craven, alcoholic Kyle Hadley, Rock Hudson his sane best friend, Lauren Bacall his abused wife, and, memorably, Dorothy Malone is his nymphomaniac sister.
46. Gone With the Wind (1939)
Though a purist would never think of watching this archetypal big-screen movie on a TV set, Gone With the Wind has been lovingly restored in MGM/UA’s video version. Open a fresh box of tissues, because no matter how many times you’ve suffered through the Civil War with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, you can’t help but give a damn.
47. Swing Time (1936)
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as celluloid dance partners. He croons to her about ”The Way You Look Tonight,” while she, crowned with shampoo bubbles, is his captive audience, and the ordinary turns magical.
48. A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Andy Griffith’s gap-tooth grin goes from winsome to wicked in his performance as the likable hobo who becomes a TV superstar and falls prey to his own power. Patricia Neal is the career girl who discovers — and pines for — him. It’s a dark, unsubtle look at ’50s McCarthyite fads.
49. Blow-Up (1966)
Director Michelangelo Antonioni’s stylishly filmed mystery, with David Hemmings, Sarah Miles, and Vanessa Redgrave, is a veritible temple to the ’60s mod era.
Watch for: The Yardbirds (with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page) smashing their instruments.
50. Nashville (1975)
Robert Altman’s traffic jam of a movie links the lives of two dozen characters in the capital of country music. Lily Tomlin, Ronee Blakley, Henry Gibson, Keith Carradine, Barbara Harris, and Gwen Welles stand out in the huge cast. And watch for Jeff Goldblum as a mysterious biker.
51. Rear Window (1954)
Jimmy Stewart peeps into the apartments across the way and discovers a wife-killer. This may be Hitchcock’s best-made movie. Watch it twice: once for the sheer enjoyment of it, the second time to notice how each of those apartments contains a variation on Stewart’s fears of marriage to girlfriend Grace Kelly — and to see how closely his peeping resembles how we watch movies.
52. Bad Boys (1983)
Before Sean Penn became a bad boy himself, he made this little-known action- drama. Penn gives a dense, wounded performance as a gang leader.If he never makes another good movie (which seems increasingly likely), Penn should be remembered for this.
53. Touch of Evil (1958)
In the late ’50s, when no one was looking, Orson Welles made a comeback with this gorgeously sleazy crime drama. Set in a Mexican border town, Touch pits federal agent Charlton Heston against crooked cop Welles. Bloated, unshaven, and sly, Welles seems corruption made flesh. Unlike some TV prints, the video version is uncut.
54. Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
Film scholars have analyzed it to death, but for most viewers (and for director Howard Hawks) this is simply a superb adventure drama about mail pilots in South America. Cary Grant gives a performance of understated ease, and Jean Arthur is the essential Hawks woman, capable of both sympathy and solidarity.
55. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Gene Kelly is a silent-picture star surviving the quake that the talkies brought to Hollywood. As a satire jabbing Hollywood’s silliness, the movie still works fine. As pure entertainment, with songs like ”Good Morning,” ”Make ‘Em Laugh,” and that title number, it still works magic.
56. It’s a Gift (1934)
The plot — a harried shopkeeper packs up his family and moves to California to become an orange grower — is only a framework for W.C. Fields’ wickedly funny exercise in righteous indignation and shameless misanthropy.
57. On the Waterfront (1954)
”I coulda been a contender,” cries Marlon Brando, in one of the movies’ most quoted but still most powerful speeches. Elia Kazan’s gritty,movie (from Budd Schulberg’s original screenplay) finds a pure hero in the man who only becomes a champ by standing up to the mob.
58. Dead Ringers (1988)
Jeremy Irons plays twin gynecologists — opposite personalities that begin to blend horribly when one tries to abandon the other — in David Cronenberg’s clammy study of separation anxiety. Irons’ performances are so stunning that you’ll watch his scenes over and over just to see how he does it.
59. Local Hero (1983)
In Bill Forsyth’s droll, sparkling comedy, a Texas oil executive (Peter Riegert) is sent to a sleepy Scottish village and succumbs to its simple way of life. Burt Lancaster plays his boss, who finds bliss by watching the aurora borealis on the beach.
60. Do the Right Thing (1989)
The film that launched a thousand arguments, Spike Lee’s microcosmic treatise on contemporary race relations is a powerful statement whose only flaw is its political ambiguity. Lee’s quirky and rich visual sense holds up on tape.
61. The African Queen (1951)
A crusty riverboat captain (Humphrey Bogart) is saddled with a steely missionary spinster (Katharine Hepburn) for a run down the rapids. Hepburn says she based her lock-jawed character on Eleanor Roosevelt, but she’s really doing the ultimate impression of herself.
62. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are shop clerks in prewar Budapest who detest each other at work and adore each other in their anonymous love correspondence. Ernst Lubitsch’s delightful romantic comedy.
63. M*A*S*H (1970)
Geysers of blood spurt as an Army surgical unit in Korea tries to keep its sanity with jokes. Director Robert Altman broke new ground with his throwaway style of improvised imagery. The only shot heard in the movie starts a very funny football game.
64. Manhunter (1986)
FBI agent William Petersen tracks serial killers by learning to think like them — not a good strategy for his health. Miami Vice creator Michael Mann avoids supercop overkill and creates a moody, clever thriller (one that’s perfect for video).
65. Alien (1979)
Sigourney Weaver in her undies, John Hurt with the ultimate case of heartburn, and a nightmare-worthy, parasite from a strange planet. What more can anyone desire? Director Ridley Scott’s space thriller is so densely detailed you’ll watch much of it in slo-mo.
66. Prizzi’s Honor (1985)
As a mafia hit-couple, Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner are lovely to look at, but very bad for each other. When Nicholson finds her on his hit list, John Huston’s dark comedy grows pitch black.
67. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Three American lowlifes prospect for gold in Mexico in John Huston’s seedy epic. As antihero Fred C. Dobbs, Bogart brings all the brooding paranoia that lay behind his good-guy roles out into the open, and it’s still a shock.
68. River’s Edge (1987)
Drugged-out, jaded teens find one of their own is a killer.in this black comedy based on a true story. Tim Hunter’s brilliant exploitation flick gone legit is a stinging rebuke to the Andy Hardy platitudes of the Reagan era.
Best performance: Crispin Glover as a contemporary Jughead-on-acid.
69. Raising Arizona (1987)
Noisy and violent, like a Road Runner cartoon come to life, this babynapping farce is wildly uneven. But it helped reveal the talents of Holly Hunter, John Goodman, and Nicolas Cage, and the Coen brothers writing-directing team loads the movie with zany delights.
70. Modern Times (1936)
The Little Tramp is an assembly-line worker mesmerized by an unceasing conveyor, until he meets a frail young waif, played by Paulette Goddard. The highlight is a little jibberish tune sung by Chaplin, the only time the Little Tramp was ever heard.
71. Top Hat (1935)
Fred woos Ginger with fleet and fancy footwork. The mistaken-identity plot in Art Deco Venice features some of Irving Berlin’s best, including the venerable ”Cheek to Cheek,” with Ginger in a fantasia of ostrich feathers. This new video version includes 10 minutes of footage that had been missing for years.
72. Breathless (1959)
In 1959, Breathless was the cinematic equivalent of Elvis Presley’s first single: Nobody had ever done this before. Applying a racy, what-the-hell technique to the nihilistic story of an aimless thug (Jean-Paul Belmondo), director Jean-Luc Godard reinvented movies for a generation itching to get on with the ’60s.
73. The Birds (1963)
Alfred Hitchcock has thousands of God’s most graceful creatures turn nasty and hang out on playground equipment, waiting to peck out schoolchildren’s eyes. Even if the studio wouldn’t permit Hitch to use the final apocalyptic shot he wanted-the Golden Gate Bridge covered with birds-the movie remains unsettling, and still scary after all these years.
74. The Producers (1968)
Writer-director Mel Brooks’ first feature virtually twitches with energy, as Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder collaborate on a zany theatrical swindle that goes hilariously wrong. Tasteless enough to look for humor in Nazism but sharp enough to find it, The Producers is a milestone in cult comedy.
75. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
Out of the millions of dumb teen comedies Hollywood has given us, why is this the only thoroughly funny one? Because it starred John Belushi. And because, in retrospect, it seems that Animal House caught the irresponsible, party-hearty side of the country’s swing to the right when it was still fresh.
76. M (1931)
Bug-eyed Peter Lorre became an international star with his portrayal of a demented child murderer in Fritz Lang’s overpowering psychological thriller. What’s most terrifying is how Lorre retains the viewer’s sympathy.
Scene to rewind: Lorre, trapped at last, shrieks, ”I can’t help myself!”
77. My Darling Clementine (1946)
Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) and an unlikely Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) prepare for the famous showdown at the O.K. Corral. John Ford paints a meditative, nostalgic picture of frontier life and its troubled gallantry.
78. Mildred Pierce (1945)
Joan Crawford earned an Oscar as the fiercely devoted single mom whose knack for pie-baking makes her rich. With her linebacker shoulders carpeted in mink, she’s a glamorous martyr, tortured and taunted by a brutally ungrateful devil-daughter (Ann Blyth).
79. Wings of Desire (1988)
Wim Wenders’ elegant fantasy of careworn angels haunting the skies over divided Germany now seems a prescient epitaph for the Berlin Wall. As the spirit who wills himself into human form for the love of a trapeze artist, Bruno Ganz is gentle and sad; as a former angel turned Hollywood star, Peter Falk is funny in just the right way.
80. Carrie (1976)
Under Brian De Palma’s playfully sick tutelage, wallflower Sissy Spacek experiences one of the worst puberties ever, breaking out in telekinetic power and turning her high school prom into a bloodbath.
Watch for: John Travolta as one of Carrie’s thuggish tormentors and Amy Irving as one of the few survivors.
81. Grand Illusion (1937)
Jean Renoir’s moving pacifist film is set in a World War I POW camp and features a cross section of enemies who would, in better times, be friends.
82. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Foreboding and kinky, director Stanley Kubrick’s vision is as cold as its cheerfully violent antihero (Malcolm McDowell). Despite the rivers of movie gore spilled since, this one is still disturbing.
Scene to slow-mo: Frame-by- frame viewing of the climactic murder scene reveals a horrifying series of subliminal images invisible to the non-freeze-frame-equipped human eye.
83. The Thin Man (1934)
Sophisticated sleuths Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) imbibe tubs of martinis and still have the wherewithal to solve a murder mystery and lob playful wisecracks.
84. A Night at the Opera (1935)
Groucho, Chico, and Harpo dismantle both a production of Il Trovatore and the pretensions of high society. Margaret Dumont, as the pearl-strung Mrs. Claypool, is the object of Groucho’s affections and insults.
85. The Last Waltz (1978)
Martin Scorsese set out to capture the final performance of the Band and wound up catching a whole generation of rockers at their spontaneous best. With Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell.
Fast forward: Past Neil Diamond’s out-of-place performance.
86. Tootsie (1982)
What’s amazing about Tootsie is not how wonderful it is but how truly awful it might have been. As the actor who becomes a better man by dressing as a woman, Dustin Hoffman turns his own fussiness into a joke.
87. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Mixing live action and animation, director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) whips up a world where innocent Toontown citizens, including the great old cartoon characters, coexist with corrupt Old Hollywood moguls. The intricate interplay between the animated characters and Bob Hoskins as a ’40s-style, scotch-in-the-desk detective, stands up to slo-mo on video.
88. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Your littlest watchers might need to be shielded from the wonderful Wicked Witch portrayed so perfectly by Margaret Hamilton, but the rest of Judy Garland’s show is unforgettable music and timeless magic. MGM/UA’s 50th anniversary edition is the one to get.
89. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Woody Allen’s best recentfilm manages to be both a philosophical treatise and a simple story of right and wrong. Martin Landau is a successful ophthalmologist who succumbs to a rising sense of dread and does away with his blackmailing mistress (Anjelica Huston).
Watch for: Alan Alda perfectly cast as a deliciously shallow TV producer.
90. Stop Making Sense (1984)
Talking Heads in close-up, courtesy of director Jonathan Demme. This has been called the greatest concert film ever made, but forget the rhetoric, plug the VCR into your stereo, and bop to its unique combination of white, intellectual artsiness and black R&B stomp. The video includes three songs not in the theatrical release.
91. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
The rights to Frank Capra’s favorite film are in the public domain, and that’s why it airs practically around the clock each Christmas, for audiences who happily cry in their eggnog every time. As syrupy as Life gets, it’s grounded by a sense of disasters lying in wait. And Jimmy Stewart walks the edge of that darkness in the scariest performance of his career.
92. Halloween (1978)
Pure unmotivated evil (the maniacal Michael Myers) stalks the land in the most influential fright film since Psycho. Granted, director John Carpenter’s first big hit has a lot to answer for — endless tawdry imitations made by cynical shlock merchants. But Halloween remains a work of claustrophic, jolting terror.
93. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
An innocent man was saved from life imprisonment when this documentary threw new light on his murder case. Filmmaker Errol Morris re-creates the murder of a Dallas policeman by laying Philip Glass’ ominous score over his reconstructions of the murder night. Morris gives us much more than the facts; he shows the fragility of truth in careless hands.
94. Jaws (1975)
Seen today, Steven Spielberg’s frightfully gory shark movie (actually tame by current standards) becomes frightfully funny.
Watch for: real shooting stars in the sky as the Bruce-baiters await their quarry.
95. Cabaret (1972)
Liza Minnelli promotes “divine decadence” as Sally Bowles, a singer at Berlin’s Kit Kat Club, just before the Nazis come to power, in Bob Fosse’s gleaming, tough-minded musical. Joel Grey makes a creepy emcee who, in his death’s-head makeup, represents the shape of things to come.
Scariest number: Grey sings the anti-Semitic ”If You Could See Her Through My Eyes.”
96. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George Romero’s ghoulish fright fest of zombies who crave human meat still makes the flesh crawl. See it as a satire of an unfeeling society whose only motivation is to consume or see it as junky video fun; just don’t see the ludicrous colorized version.
97. Some Like It Hot (1959)
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are musicians who escape the Mob by putting on dresses and join an all-girl band. In a plot pregnant with cleverly unspoken dirty jokes, our heroes angle for the affections of bewildered band singer Marilyn Monroe, who gives a delightfully wispy performance.
98. Atlantic City (1981)
Beautiful losers Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon bet it all on one last shot in Louis Malle’s haunting tale of redemption. The title city, caught like a fly in amber in the transformation from seaside resort to high roller’s mecca, is the perfect metaphor for a world where luck and love suddenly appear and are just as suddenly gone.
99. Last Tango in Paris (1973)
Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, and a few sticks of butter — all of them strangers — get together in an empty Paris apartment. Bernardo Bertolucci’s psychosexual Brief Encounter, shot in ripe pinks and apricots, has sensation to burn. And Brando is blisteringly good.
100. White Heat (1949)
James Cagney was supposed to have outgrown gangster roles by 1949, but the part of Cody Jarrett was too good to turn down: A great screen psycho who flies to pieces before our very eyes.
Scene to rewind: Jailbird Cagney flips out when he hears his mother is dead.
The Best of the Worst
Here are five movies that are so bad, they’re worth watching.
The grungy space movie from David Lynch. Bring some damn fine coffee.
9 1/2 Weeks (1986)
It was supposed to be erotic, but wound up as a flick in which two good-looking people (Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke) smear food on each other.
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
A science-fiction mess with Bela Lugosi, generally hailed as the Worst Movie Ever Made. No argument here.
Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, and Dean Stockwell as hippies in this camp quickie. Groovy.
Two of a Kind (1983)
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in love. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry — but in all the wrong places.
Here are five great VCR double features:
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Two stories of veterans coming home capture the change in America’s moods between the post-World War II era and Vietnam.
The Seven Samurai (1954)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Akira Kurosawa’s very Japanese film about seven warriors becomes a very American Western in the form of The Magnificent Seven, with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen.
Mystic Pizza (1988)
Two contemporary coming-of-age-while-stuffing-your-face movies: one for the boys (Diner) and one for the girls (Mystic Pizza).
Anything by Alfred Hitchcock High Anxiety (1977)
Mel Brooks’ loving tribute to Hitchcock borrows liberally and hilariously from the master. (Watch High Anxiety second.)
Easy Rider (1969)
Lost in America (1985)
Lost‘s yuppies take a cue from Easy Rider‘s hippie bikers and set out to see America.
Worth Waiting For
Legal hassles and inscrutable movie-studio priorities often keep certain titles off video store shelves for years. Here are the ones we’d most like to see:
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
In Werner Herzog’s spooky retelling of Dracula legend, the otherworldly Klaus Kinski sucks the blood of Isabelle Adjani — but not on video.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
This cult rock opera will probably be kept off video as long as it keeps packing theaters for midnight shows.
Walt Disney’s series of brilliantly animated sketches is about to make its 50th-anniversary appearance in theaters, but there’s no video release in sight.
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Peter Bogdanovich took Larry McMurtry’s fictional ’50s Texas backwater and peopled it with the likes of Cybill Shepherd and Jeff Bridges. Rights disputes have kept it off cassette.
Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
Annie Oakley (Betty Hutton) gets her man, but Irving Berlin, who wrote the splendid score, refused to let video viewers get their hands on this grand old musical.