Poets' Favorite Movies
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
1937 Grand Illusion, dir. Jean Renoir. With
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,
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
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
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
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
1991, JFK, dir. Oliver Stone. With Kevin
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.