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Poets' Favorite Movies

David Lehman

These are the movies I love the best—an incomplete list, partial in every sense:

1936 Swing Time, dir. George Stevens. With Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Dorothy Fields.

1937 Grand Illusion, dir. Jean Renoir. With Jean Gabin.

1939 The Wizard of Oz, dir. Victor Fleming, With Judy Garland, music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Yip Harburg.

1941 Citizen Kane, dir. Orson Welles. With Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloan. Music by Bernard Herrmann.

1941 The Maltese Falcon, dir. John Huston. With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre. Based on Dashiell Hammett novel.

1944 Hail the Conquering Hero, dir. Preston Sturges. With Eddie Bracken.

1945 Les Enfants du paradis ["Children of Paradise"], dir. Marcel Carne. With Jean-Louis Barrault, Arletty, Pierre Brasseur.

1945 Dead of Night, British movie directed by Cavalcanti (and others, I believe).  Five supernatural episodes within the framing device of a country house party.

1946 The Best Years of our Lives, dir. William Wyler. With Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Theresa Wright, Fredric March.

1947 Out of the Past, dir. Jacques Tourneur. With Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer.

1949 Twelve O'Clock High, dir. Henry King. With Gregory Peck, Gary Merrill.

1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai, dir. David Lean. With William Holden, Alec Guinness.

1958 Vertigo, dir. Alfred Hitchcock. With James Stewart, Kim Novak. Music by Bernard Herrmann.

1959 North by Northwest, dir. Alfred Hitchcock. With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason.

1962 The Counterfeit Traitor, dir. George Seaton. With William Holden, Lilli Palmer.

1962 The Manchurian Candidate," dir. John Frankenheimer. With Frank Sinatra, Janet Leigh, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury.

1966 Blowup, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni. With David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave.

1969 The Wild Bunch, dir. Sam Peckinpah. With William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates.

1972 A Clockwork Orange, dir. Stanley Kubrick. With Malcolm McDowell.

1972 Dirty Harry, dir. Don Siegel. With Clint Eastwood.

1972, 1974 The Godfather and The Godfather II, dir. Francis Ford Coppola. With Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro.

1979 Manhattan, dir. Woody Allen. With Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, score by George Gershwin.

1984 Once Upon a Time in America, dir Sergio Leone. With Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Tuesday Weld.

1991, JFK, dir. Oliver Stone. With Kevin Costner.

2003 (ck) Memento, dir. Christopher Nolan. With Guy Pearce.

2004 (ck) Mulholland Drive, dir. David Lynch. With Naomi Watts.


It's irresistible to make top-ten lists and impossible to do them right. I tried limiting myself to ten, then fifteen, and I wound up with twenty-five beloved movies and a bad case of day-after regrets. When I looked over my list, it was in a state of disbelief. How could I have left out Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour? Where was Yankee Doodle Dandy? On the Waterfront? The Third Man? How about Laura, Double Indemnity, The Lady from Shanghai"? No Raging Bull. No Chaplin. And how to explain the absence of Henri-Georges Clouzot's Wages of Fear (Le Salaire de la peur) with Yves Montand driving a truck full of explosives over the Andes? I love the way "The Blue Danube" orchestrates the conclusion of this impeccable film. It's very nearly as splendid as the sequence in which a pair of spaceships seem to dance and copulate in outer space to the strains of the same immortal waltz in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, another great movie unaccountably missing from my list. Well, "nobody's perfect," as Joe E. Brown says at the end of Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder's comic masterpiece (1959), with Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, the absence of which from anybody's list is most lamentable.

David Lehman is the author of When a Woman Loves a Man, among other books of poems. He is the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006) and the series editor of The Best American Poetry, which he initiated in 1988. He teaches in the graduate writing program of the New School in New York City. His essay on "Hitchcock's America" is forthcoming in American Heritage magazine.


Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach