1,001 Movies I Forgot To Watch

It recently occurred to me that when you walk around with your nose in a book all the time, you miss out on other literary and art forms.  So I’ve decided that 2012 will be a year in which I watch movies–which, from a bibliophile’s point of view, really does mean the end of the world as we know it.

But I feel fine.  Super-fine, actually, thanks to the guidance of a lovely book called 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.  Published in three editions thus far, with the most recent appearing just last year, this tiny, yet hefty, little volume could’ve been subtitled “Cinema History for Dummies.”  It contains an alphabetical checklist of the films themselves, followed by a chapter for each decade of moviemaking and a short summary of each film. Using my own quirky logic–don’t ask–I’ve watched at least one film every day in 2012 thus far, doubling and tripling up when I can.

Much to my relief, an initial review of the checklist revealed I’d actually seen 162 of the 1,o001 selections pre-project. If I’ve already watched classics like Amarcord, Jules and Jim,  and Casablanca, I can’t be a complete cultural moron, right? Fans of contemporary cinema will be happy with the editors’ more recent suggestions, such as Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange, and Pulp Fiction. And, much to my surprise, some recent releases made the list, including The King’s Speech (seen it), Black Swan (looking forward to it) and Avatar (aw, man, do I have to?).

It’s early days, of course, but my favorite movie so far is Sidney Lumet’s classic, 12 Angry Men, which was adapted from a teleplay by Reginald Rose. A teenage boy from the wrong side of the tracks has supposedly murdered his father.  Eleven jurors are sure he’s guilty, but one man has doubts and questions about the case. The ensuing argument, in which a young Henry Fonda slowly brings the entire group around to his way of thinking, is filmed with tight, close shots, including a killer scene in which Lumet poignantly physicalizes the emotional isolation of the last man voting guilty. Watching the film made me want to round up all my friends for a long conversation about justice and the forces that can sometimes obscure it, as well as how/whether those issues are still relevant today.

Here’s a list of the films I’ve watched so far:

  1. Farewell, My Concubine
  2. Faces
  3. 12 Angry Men
  4. Sabotage
  5. Safe
  6. Kandahar
  7. A Trip to the Moon
  8. The Great Train Robbery
  9. The Birth of A Nation
  10. M
  11. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  12. Broken Blossoms
  13. 8 1/2
  14. Zero Kelvin*
  15. Project A, Part II**
  16. On the Waterfront
  17. The African Queen
  18. Aileen Wuormos: The Selling of a Serial Killer**
  19. Alice
  20. Odd Man Out
  21. Reservoir Dogs
  22. Dirty Harry
  23. Four Lions

Every single film has taught me something, either about filmmaking or cultural history.   Sitting through The Birth of a Nation and Broken Blossoms , for example, was downright painful, but getting concrete visual proof of our country’s checkered past was worth it. Each film, too, seems to have one moment that stands out as noteworthy or interesting.  Jan Svankmeijer’s Alice bored me to tears, plot-wise, but made me want to learn more about animation.  Dirty Harry left me cold, themtically, but Harry Callahan’s throwaway line, “That’ll be the day,” was a nice call-back to The Searchers, another film from the list that I watched with my dad many times as a kid.   And more recent picks like the wickedly satirical Four Lions, which is about an extremely inept group of terrorists, have convinced me that maybe I should actually pony up for the cost of a movie ticket now and again.

In fact, the only real drawback to the project is that I miss reading!  I have not entirely given up on books; when I’m not watching a film these days, I’m slowly making my way through A Storm of Swords, book three of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. I’ve also started Roberto  Bolaño’s The Third Reich, a literary novel about a board gaming enthusiast on vacation.  It’s one of those novels where not much happens, but there are sinister undertones to the action that make you feel as if something creepy could manifest at any moment.

But, at least in 2012, my heart belongs to the movies.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress as the year goes by; I’m not sure if I can actually squeeze 816 more movies into the next 347 days, but it’s definitely going to be fun trying!  Are you a movie enthusiast?  Which films would you select for the list, and which of your favorites are already on it?

Leigh Anne

who now understands the phrase “sleep is for the weak.”

*Available on Netflix streaming, coming soon to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

**Available on Netflix streaming.


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13 responses to “1,001 Movies I Forgot To Watch

  1. Don

    Lots of wonderful movies on this list, some favs. The one I absolutely love is “Wings of Desire” – an amazing film.

  2. ZZMike

    So many (books, movies), so little time….

    A few years back I made a list of the “4-star” movies from one of the good movie guides (Ebert &c). I stopped counting around 500 or 600.

    This is a good site to follow:

    Great but not forgotten

    The tagline is “A look at movies, books, TV, comics, music, and other things that deserve to be less obscure.” He writes well and intelligently about the movies and TV shows he features.

    And just think how many books have been turned into movies. Some even successfully!

    As you’re going through movie history, I can heartily recommend “Hugo” (the only film I know where 3D actually works, though the movie itself works well in 2D), with a great performance by Ben Kingsley as George Melies. (And yes, that certain scene from “Trip to the Moon” is in there, along with many others.)

    Another is one we recently saw: “The Artist”, a silent film about the silent film era; another first-rate movie. (Yes! a modern movie, in B&W and silent! There’s a musical soundtrack, and on-screen caption cards for occasional bits of dialog. I was amazed by how little dialog was needed to carry the story.)

    “To Kill a Mockingbird” is most likely in your book. Don’t miss it.

    From the early days, Sunrise (1927). (Don’t go by the “Storyline” abstracts at the top – read the comments.) (I just saw that it’s “on the list”!

    I think it would be helpful (or at least instructive) to find a book on film history. Unfortunately, I don’t know of one. If you find one, let us know.

    PS: filmsquish is a great site!!

    • Mike, thanks for the wonderful, informative comment! Lots to follow up on there. Will have to hop to it, I suppose. “To Kill A Mockingbird” is definitely on the list, and I’m looking forward to it.

      Leigh Anne

  3. So hard to take my nose out of a book long enough to see a movie! I did recently see a couple movies on dvd that I really enjoyed. One is Limitless. The other is Moon. Now…back to the books.

  4. Leigh Anne, you should have just pursued this list of “cult films”: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/07/143296617/what-s-on-your-cult-film-list.
    There are only 100 to watch!

  5. ZZMike

    “2001: Space Odyssey” is a cult film? I have to wonder what they mean by “cult film”.

    La belle et la bête, Jean Cocteau, 1946: One of the early greats. You really need to see this one.

    Casablanca, Michael Curtiz, 1942

    OK, that’s it. Casablanca is not a “cult film”. It’s one of the top 15 or 20 American movies – not far behind “Citizen Kane”.

    Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton, 1990

    One of Johnny Depp’s best, a wonderful, beautiful movie.

    It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra, 1946
    Nowhere near a “cult film”.

    The Wizard of Oz, Victor Fleming, 1939
    ? ? ?

    When I think of cult films, I think of “Eraserhead”, :Freaks”, “Pink Flamingos”, … I give them a break because it’s NPR; they’re really not expected to know the difference between a real and a cult film.

    Is there anyone who cannot see the difference between these last and the four above? (Outside of NPR?)

    The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jim Sharman, 1975

    Now THAT’s one I would really call a textbook-case cult film. Also Two-Lane Blacktop, Monte Hellman, 1971, one of the few cult films that isn’t mostly disgusting.

    • Mike, it’s definitely interesting whenever anyone makes a list of any kind, because it begs the question, “What criteria were used?” Same issue that dogs canon formation in literature, I suppose. I try to take it all with a grain of salt. There are definitely some movies on the “1,001” list that I’ve watched and wondered, “Er, why?”

      Leigh Anne

  6. Pingback: Caffeine, Monsters, and Dead Dogs: A “1,001 Movies” Update | Eleventh Stack

  7. You might be interested to know that there’s a iPhone app for the 1001 movies list: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/1001-movies/id533680876?ls=1&mt=8

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