All-Time Favorite Movies

Yeesh, a long time between blog postings—and you can blame it on editing.

Okay, not entirely true. I took a break from revising Of the Night to help celebrate Sherron’s parents’ 50th in southern Manitoba. The weather was terrific and just about the entire clan was present. Great people, lots of laughs. Sherron and her sister Kathy even talked me into writing a short tribute to the guests of honour, which I managed to carry off without making an arse of myself. First public speech or performance I’ve given in ages and it probably showed.

Congrats to Kendi and John, who surprised everyone by getting married (why do things halfway, eh?) the night of the formal supper. What a weekend! Thanks to everyone involved, especially Kathy and Donna, who served above and beyond the call of duty. See y’all again soon…

* * * * *

In one of my recent posts I provided a reading list, a roster of the books that have had a lasting impression or influence on me.

This time around, I want to acknowledge some of the movies that have meant a lot to me. My writing—its structure, in particular—owes much to the cinema and it’s no small accident that there are a couple of movies based on my work currently in development. My fiction is ideally suited for adaptation to the large or small screen.

Anyway, to the list:

Citizen Kane….All-time greatest? Hard to argue when you’ve got a creative triumvirate that includes Orson Welles, Herman Mankiewicz and Gregg Toland

Apocalypse Now…..flaws and all, still the most powerful war film ever made; sumptuous cinematography by the great Vittorio Storaro

Brazil…………Terry Gilliam at his very, very best

2001: A Space Odyssey…finest SF flick ever. A powerful and cerebral experience. We won’t see the likes of Stan Kubrick again

Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction….thank you, Quentin, thank you, thank you…

Naked.….David Thewlis’s performance the best in film history. A staggering achievement and, concurrently, one of the bleakest movies I’ve ever seen

Henry V.….Kenny Branagh’s Agincourt speech still brings tears to my eyes (fuck the purists who insist Olivier did it better; this Henry is the one I prefer)

Chinatown...might be the perfect motion picture: script, direction, acting are all sublime. One for the ages.

Casablanca..…..need I say more? Ingrid Bergman is radiant—no wonder Bogie can forgive her and fall in love all over again

The Usual Suspects….Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Del Toro…what a cast. A modern day noir that succeeds on every level.

The Third Man….Welles again (acting); literate, authentic, intelligent; from the pen of Graham Greene (directed by Carol Reed)

Reds...……..Storaro again & super-intelligent script, terrific, under-stated (for a change) performance by Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill

Godfather (Trilogy)………Part I, half of Part II, burn Part III

The Long Good Friday….one of the best gangster flicks of all time. Bob Hoskins will scare the mortal piss out of you

Mean Streets/Raging Bull/Taxi Driver….Scorsese’s masterpieces. Note to Marty: start making good films again

The Professional.…Luc Besson has been slumming it ever since–Gary Oldman’s portrayal of a bent, homicidal cop is electrifying

Miller’s Crossing……best of the Coen Bros. so far—awesome ensemble cast

The Big Lebowski….Coen Bros. again; hilarious performance by one of the finest actors in the biz, Jeff Bridges

Straight Time…….Dustin Hoffman’s best role; an under-appreciated minor masterpiece, directed by Ulu Grosbard

Laws of Gravity….gritty little movie of street hoods; fantastic no name cast; I love the improvised feel of this one.

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels/Snatch...Good God, what happened to Guy Ritchie? Makes two fantastic flicks like this, then starts knocking boots with Madonna. Next thing you know, everything he touches turns to shite. Too bad…

Eraserhead/Blue Velvet….and then David Lynch died and went to Hell

The Fly/ Videodrome.…Cronenberg knows what you’re afraid of; James Woods is a marvel in Videodrome

The Exorcist….still the scariest movie of them all. Give credit to director William Friedkin and a solid cast for giving power and intensity to such a dopy, implausible concept

The Thing (1982)….John Carpenter, another guy whose career has dropped down the toilet. Wonderful performance by Kurt Russell and a supporting cast of veteran character actors. (Best line: “I don’t know what’s in there but whatever it is, it’s weird and pissed off.”)

The Tenant/Repulsion…Roman Polanski…the master of personal, claustrophobic horror. Rosemary’s Baby was good—these two are even better.

Paperhouse….a little seen Brit nail-biter, genuinely spooky and atmospheric; directed by Bernard Rose

Lawrence of Arabia….epic with a brain and O’Toole is magnificent in his film debut

Out of the Past…..quintessential noir; Mitchum and Douglas; Jacques Tourneur directs

Crimes & Misdemeanors….I’m not a fan of Woody Allen’s any more but this film is an important reflection

on morality and responsibility. Martin Landau is particularly good

City of Hope/Matewan…..John Sayles is one of those writers I envy and admire with every fiber of my

being. He’s occasionally preachy but his dialogue and his ability to portray characters from other

cultures and races sets him apart from almost anybody else

Withnail & I.…the funniest movie of all time. Richard E. Grant’s acting in this film is an amazing thing to behold.

They Might Be Giants.…hard to find but a truly lovely addition to the Holmes canon

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother…hard to find too; haven’t seen it for years but I recall it with much fondness and affection; the combination of Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman…delightful

Modern Times/The Gold Rush……Charles Chaplin. Timeless!

Public Enemy/White Heat….James Cagney, what a man. These are my particular faves but just about all of his movies are worth searching out.

Duck Soup/A Night at the Opera….The Marx Bros. Anarchic and brilliant.

Fingers..……..James Toback writes and directs this sleeper; Harvey Keitel delivers his finest, most nuanced performance

Spun……..astounding Jonas Akerlund film; unflinchingly depicts the horrors of crystal meth addiction; a harrowing experience

Salvador….Oliver Stone scripts and directs his most effeective film; James Woods is nothing short of astonishing

Sorceror.……great soundtrack by Tangerine Dream, strange and surreal. Based on Clouzot’s Wages of Fear, many critics savaging it, saying it didn’t hold a candle to the original. I disagree–but it tanked and director William Friedkin paid a heavy price for its failure

Thief………..Michael Mann’s first film; a great caper flick and character study. James Caan, Jim Belushi and Robert Prosky head the cast.

Narc……….bravura performances by leads Ray Liotta and Jason Patric; intense, to say the least. Complications regarding financing nearly closed down the production but the cast and crew worked for reduced wages to save it; directed by Joe Carnahan

Syriana….saw this one recently and found it compelling and convincing.  Horrifying torture scene and (I’m happy to report) no shiny, happy ending to tie things up

Lord of War….best American flick I’ve seen in yonks.  Cynical, downbeat.  And check out those opening credits!

Monty Python’s Life of Brian/Holy Grail…seen ’em both at least 30 or 40 times and they still make me laugh. That tells you something.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again….the dentist…ha ha…the dentist scene…ha ha

Ride the High Country/ The Wild Bunch…Sam Peckinpah was a fuckin’ genius

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon/ The Searchers/True Grit…I’m my dad’s son: I enjoy Westerns & war flicks. The Duke looks like he was born on a fucking horse.Fill your hand, you sonofabitch…”

The Long Riders…..the last great western (1980); directed by Walter Hill

Alien I, II, & IV.……only David Fincher could fuck up a concept as great as this

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan…yes, yes, I admit it, I’m a Trekkie. And this is by far the best of the

series. Credit goes to Nicholas Meyer, who breathed life back into the franchise.

Silent Running….vintage sci-fi; Bruce Dern is one of my favorite actors and he is exceptionally solid in this one. Directed by SFX whiz Douglas Trumbull

Foreign flicks:

City of Lost Children/Delicatessen (Jean Pierre Jeunet)

Day of Wrath/Passion of Joan of Arc/Vampyr (Carl Th. Dreyer)

Faust (F.W. Murnau)

My Life As A Dog (Lasse Hallstrom)

Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo)

Napoleon (Abel Gance)

City of God (Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund))

Aguirre: Wrath of God (Werner Herzog)

Das Boot (Wolfgang Peterson)

The Bicycle Thief (Vittorio de Sica)

Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Bunuel)

Zazie Dans Le Metro (Louis Malle)

Guilty Pleasures:

King Of New York…Abel Ferrara ugliness; repellent and riveting

Revenge...savage film by Tony Scott; starring Kevin Costner

Scarface…De Palma’s version…unrelenting.

License To Kill...surprisingly brutal James Bond with under-rated Timothy Dalton

Favorite Movie Stars: Steve McQueen; William Holden; Peter Sellers; James Cagney; Groucho Marx

Most over-rated film folk: Alfred Hitchcock; Steven Spielberg; Jean-Luc Godard; Bernardo Bertolucci; Michelangelo Antonioni


  1. DJ

    I definitely agree with Apocalypse now except that I would put it at the top of the list. The cinematography combined with a great performance by Martin Sheen (as well as the supporting cast) puts this one over the top. It is such a gritty look at the different ways the mind copes with danger and death. But then, I guess it helps to have such great source material as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

    I would argue with you about Hitchcock, but another time.

  2. Holden Caulfield

    You don’t like James Dean? Why do you think Hitchcock is overrated?

  3. iansales

    Alfred Hitchcock was the most consistently entertaining director of all time. And Antonioni’s L’Avventura and L’Eclisse are excellent films. Definitely agree about Spielberg and Godard, though. And I’d add Tim Burton as grossly over-rated too.

    Favourite films? For me, they’d have to be: Alien (best of the franchise), Brazil (better than Orwell), Das Boot (best war film ever), Delicatessen , Divine Intervention (bizarre and very funny Palestinian film), Dune, Fahrenheit 451 (the only Truffaut I like), High Society (Grace Kelly! Louis Armstrong! Frank Sinatra! Bing Crosby!), Lawrence of Arabia (epic), Man Bites Dog, No End (Kieslowski’s best), Repo Man, The Right Stuff, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Sliding Doors (you have to like at least one romcom), Solaris (Tarkovsky, not Soderbergh), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (the best and most sfnal of the Trek films), Still Crazy, To Catch A Thief (Grace Kelly! Cary Grant! Hitchcock!), Until the End of the World (the ultimate road movie)…

  4. Darshan

    A quick(ish?), select .02 worth. . .
    Plus: Howdy stranger!

    Brazil: Love Terry Gilliam. Film had too many endings first time I saw it. Will have to look at the Criterion edition and re-consider.

    Henry V: Really, we’d end up having a drunken brawl over this one. Kenneth Brannagh should NOT do Shakespeare. In Hamlet, when he does the section where Shakespeare instructs (through the play) the method with which his plays should be acted (basically keep it simple, and understated and leave the bluster at home), Brannagh manages to deliver those lines in the film with all great fury! I also really disapprove of the thing that he does with Derek Jacobi (one of the most talented Shakespearian actors) in this movie. I will give you the gorgeous music and cinematography.

    Casablanca: An agreed upon classic, but should you get a chance, read Umberto Eco’s essay in Travels in Hyperreality. He describes all the reasons why as a film it shouldn’t work, yet it does. An entertaining read.

    The Usual Suspects: Agreed, a classic but you need to thank Christopher McQuarrie and John Ottman. I could tell stories here but a won’t. Incidentally, name one other great Bryan Singer film. Don’t try so hard. You’ll get dizzy.

    The Tenant – Weeeeeird. Roman Polanski does nothing for Chanel.

    Eraserhead/Blue Velvet….”and then David Lynch died and went to Hell” and did some other great movies! (I will give you Lost Highway and Dune.)

    Sorceror – A fine movie, but I am afraid I am a fan of the original Cluzot film over this one as well. Where did the ending go? And Tangerine Dream had an even BETTER soundtrack in Thief (which you don’t mention! Arrgh!) ;o)

    Narc – I prefer Rush for my drug-addled Jason Patric cop movies.

    Alien franchise – There were only TWO movies Alien and Aliens. The other films went to hell. :op

    Star Trek II – You mention Nicholas Meyer, but not Star Trek VI? That film had a great “classic” Trek feel to it and one of the best film scores in recent memory. Go Cliff Eidellman!

    Aguirre, The Wrath of God – A yes, a great one. A friend of mine almost had a chance to work on Herzog’s current film. With Nicholas Cage in the lead. Here’s hoping it isn’t Wicker Man II: Electric Boogaloo.

    License to Kill: Watch Anthony Zerbe explode! Yay!

    Perhaps I will get bored and put up a list. You can throw in your .02 cents worth of joy and dismay anytime. You may do that if you look at my latest post anyway.



  5. jargoneer

    I can only assume you are joking about Alien IV; unless of course you like Winona Ryder. I could understand that reason but failing that, her performance as an android is almost as unconvincing as Richard Gere’s as a human (pick any film he was been in to see this).

    However, there is no excuse, and never will be, for including any Guy Ritchie film on a ‘best of’ list. If the UN did it’s job properly this man would have been arrested and tried for crimes against humanity. (So should Richard Gere but they may struggle to prove he is human – see above).

    I’ve given up ranting against Withnail and I – being the only person ever to watch it neither stoned nor drunk I can only say, “The horror. The horror.”

    Completely agree about westerns and John Wayne though – personally I would have chosen Red River instead of True Grit.

    Glad you explained what had happened to you – I was worried that editing had finally driven you over the edge; scouring the Canadian newspapers for stories about ranting madmen just in case.

  6. mikecane

    >>>Eraserhead/Blue Velvet….and then David Lynch died and went to Hell

    Oh no no no. Dune, baby, Dune! BOTH versions. I wish to hell they’d pay him to stitch together a Director-Approved THIRD version.

    You must see Apartment Zero.

    Late at night, brain not at top speed. Many more I’d recommend. Damn: Horse’s Mouth and A Fine Madness. Two MUST films for ALL writers!!

  7. insomnihack

    reading that list made me think about how long it is since i saw a really good film. the last thing i saw was ‘the bucket list’ which was ok but nothing great. i think it would have to be blood diamond, which was an age ago.

    i found myself nodding through almost all of the list, especially with naked (i love that film). and you are so right about henry v though my favourite part is brian blessed bellowing ‘Tennis balls, my liege.’

    Thank you for checking out my blog by the way.I hope you found enough there to maybe draw you back once in a while.


  8. paul1701

    The Wrath of Khan: Probably the most-watched movie in our household. Consequently my wife never wants to see it again!

  9. paul1701

    Oh, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Independence Day, The Core, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, Sphere, Signs, Event Horizon, Lost in Space. See some kind of thread here….?

  10. lonelysealonelysky

    Sorry that this comment is off topic, but thanks for the advice you gave to me about not adding words just for the sake of it. I’ll remember that. The thought of it myself but so many posts on the web said to aim for at least 80,000 words. I’ve found looking at the word count is quite upsetting, and when I ignore I enjoy the writing more and get further.

    Thanks again.

    On topic: I haven’t seen 95% of those, but I agree with The Fly. I almost cried at the end. It shows that sometimes science should leave things alone.

  11. azahar

    Very interesting list.

    You’re the first person I’ve ever met who has seen Naked (without me making them watch it).

  12. 1979semifinalist


    Great list. And kind of surprising, just when I was getting a feel for what you like where and why, you’d throw in some surprises there.

    Nice to see Naked on the list – that almost never makes anyone’s list (including mine?) – but it’s a brilliant film.

    I was surprised to see such a small selection of foreign though.

    I do disagree with you on Hitchcock, but the argument is easily made for Godard, Speilberg, Bertolucci (despite my love of some of their films – they miss A LOT as well), and I’m already sold on Antonioni as overrated. Not a fan.

  13. rhapsodysinger

    Mr. Burns,
    Am a lurker here and love to read you and admire your posts.
    I think you ought to sample a Hindi ( Bollywood) blockbuster with sub-titles. Go for Bhulbhulaia. If you don’t like it, at least you’d have seen something entirely different from your traditional fare.
    Thanks for the list. I’d be watching those movies with the missus.
    Thanks again…for the wonderful work that you do here.

  14. Pingback: Bookmarks about Heat
  15. daveed

    Great list; I especially liked the adds, Guilty Pleasures and Overrated film folk

    My guilty pleasures:
    Team America
    Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
    The Dirty Dozen
    Black Hawk Down

    The Overrateds (directors; there are just too many overrated actors to name):
    Wachowski Brothers
    Oliver Stone
    Ingmar Bergman
    Jean-Luc Godard
    Stephen Soderbergh
    Paul Thomas Anderson
    Quentin Tarantino
    Kevin Smith
    Peter Jackson
    Sofia Coppola

  16. Travis Outlaw

    Oliver Stone have you seen The Joy Luck Club?

    And Quentin Tarantino is not overrated. Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill are absolutely amazing. Just because he made only a few movies doesn’t mean he’s overrated.

    A director that is overrated is somebody like M. Night Shyamalan.

  17. apsheko

    Yeah… you’re right about crappy Sci-Fi (re your comment on my blog). Although I never really got into sci-fi so it didn’t matter for me.

    What about A Scanner Darkly? (Or perhaps Minority Report, which was all right but not great). I’m not really sure what falls into the category of science fiction: Children of Men was really good in my opinion.

    I was really disappointed with I, Robot because I read the Asimov novel and it in no way matched the genius of that.

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