1. Dr. Strangelove (1964) Featuring George C. Scott, Peter Sellers and a very young James Earl Jones, Stanley Kubrick’s classic film tackles the absurdity of the Cold War and the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction in the only sane way – dark humor. Peter Sellers especially shines in this movie playing three of the major roles – President Mervin Muff (loosely based on Adlai Stevenson), Dr. Strangelove (a not-so-reformed ex-Nazi rocket scientist) and Royal Air Force Group Captain Lionel Mandrake whose interaction with the paranoid, insane American Air Force General Jack Ripper (played perfectly by Sterling Hayden) is, to my mind, the funniest conversation on film. You’ll never think about the fluoridation of water the same way.
2. 1776 (1971) I like musicals. There. I said it. I like the idea of a world where it is totally normal for people to spontaneously break into song and dance. What if those people were our country’s Founding Fathers? Such is the amazing premise of this Tony-award winning musical dramatizing the debate and drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Featuring William Daniels as John Adams, Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson and Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom (the lovely Blythe Danner) as Martha Jefferson. Also, before I read David McCoullugh’s biography of John Adams, everything I knew about our 2nd president came from the following song.
3. Top Hat (1935) Music is an important part of almost every movie and the old RKO pictures featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are full of classic songs and impressive (to put it mildly) dance numbers. Astaire and Rogers made several films for the now defunct RKO studio but Top Hat remains my favorite if only for the “Dancing Cheek to Cheek”bit.
4. Anchorman (2003) – If you don’t think this 2003 film about a local news team is the funniest movie ever, I will fight you!
5. O Brother Where Art Thou (2000) There are so many things to admire in this Coen brothers film. The plot – a clever take on Homer’s Odyssey, the music – a delightful romp through Southern blues, bluegrass and folk, the acting – stellar performances from George Clooney, John Goodman, Charles Durning, and even the fascinating back story for the title “O Brother Where Art Thou” – it was taken from the film Sullivan’s Travels (1941) about a film director trying to make a film a about the Depression-era South.
6. The Trip (2010) Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon star as former colleagues who set out on a foodie road trip across the UK. Their hilarious conversations and constant games of one-upmanship (all largely improvised) are riveting, as are the delicious glimpses into the kitchens of the various restaurants at which they dine and the sweeping views northern England and Scotland landscapes.
7.Topsy-Turvy (1999) Since this has become a confessional post of sorts, I’ll also just come right out and also admit: I really like Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, Yeoman of the Guard – it’s all good. This movie follows the British duo as they struggle to write The Mikado. Jim Broadbent as W.S. Gilbert is especially delightful.
8. Casino Royale (2006) I’m a big fan of the James Bond series, even the cheesy ones, which of course, is most of them. But the restart of the legendary spy series with Daniel Craig as Agent 007 in 2006 marked a notable improvement in the quality of the films. If you haven’t read Sir Ian Fleming’s source novels, you really should. The Bond of the novels is considerably more interesting (if less dependent on silly gadgets) than the Bond of the most of the movies. Casino Royale moves the film series back toward Fleming’s more interesting spy.
9. Star Wars (1977) The first CD I purchased with my own money was John Williams’ score to Star Wars. I still hum “The Imperial March” whenever I find myself walking down a long (ideally dim) hallway. George Lucas incurred the wrath of many fans with the – let’s say less than stellar – relaunch of the saga in with 1998’s The Phantom Menace. And though the prequels certainly don’t have the same panache as the original, there is a fun way to watch the series. So, try this sometime: watch the movies in this order by episode: 4, 5, 2, 3, 6. There is no need to ever watch Episode 1. I like this alternative order because it preserves the dramatic reveal involving Luke’s paternity in Episode 5. It also makes good thematic sense to introduce the Vader/Anakin back story after that dramatic moment in Episode 5, so that the entire saga can be viewed as a father/son redemption story.
10. Babette’s Feast (1987) The final scene in this understated film is probably the most enjoyable presentation a foodie could ask for. If you like the film, why not try some of the recipes from the great feast?