List: Best Films Based on Comics or Graphic Novels

10. Addams Family Values (1993)
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Comics by Charles Addams.

9. The Avengers (2012)
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Marvel Comics.

8. Superman (1978)
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Comics by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster.

7. Hulk (2003)
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Comics by Stan Lee & John Kirby.

6. Iron Man (2008)
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Comics by Stan Lee, Dan Heck, Jerry Lieber & Jack Kirby.

5. Big Hero 6 (2014)
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Man of Action Comics.

4. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
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Comics by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko.

3. Batman Begins (2005)
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2. Persepolis (2007)
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Graphic novel by Marjane Satrape.

1. American Splendor (2003)
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Based on Harvey Peker’s graphic novel series American Splendor and his wife Joyce Brabner’s autobiographical graphic novel Our Cancer Year.

 

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Fantasia (1940)

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After over 80 years of making feature films, the Disney company’s third full-length animated movie remains the company’s crowning achievement. Combining multiple art forms in unprecedented ways, Fantasia conformed to no rules of 1940 filmmaking and introduced a world of beauty completely unlike any other work of art.

The first piece of classical music to be set to animation is Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” The animators present colors and shapes that try to evoke the same thoughts and emotions that the music does. By doing this, the movie appeared to break the cardinal rule of movie making in 1940, that every movie has to be a single story and all it’s parts have to be integral to that story. But, just as every story commands attention and a mental and emotional investment in how the story unfolds, Fantasia‘s first segment accomplishes this through its music, colors, lighting and shapes. It invites us to experience a completely new type of story telling. It’s a work of art that wants to reach our souls. And as a part of the whole film, it actually begins telling the very story of the human soul.

With a few highlights from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” the animators don’t tell a story at all like the one the ballet was first written for. But the sections of the piece they use (including “The Russian Dance” and “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”) have national origins that the animators highlight. Customs and traditions of the people groups represented are shown through wildly colorful and giddy animals and mushroom-like dancers. But however goofy the scenes get, the heart of each one is a look at how we identify ourselves as people.

The most famous segment of course has Mickey Mouse playing “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” It’s the first section of the movie that tells anything close to a complete story. Mickey appears innocent enough in all his attempts to follow in his master’s footsteps, but everything that looks safe for him turns out to be a really big mess in this very simple fable about how we often think our motives are pure and don’t realize otherwise until we’re in the middle of a big mess.

Using Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” the artists begin with a live-action clay set to depict the origins of life on earth. Then with the Big Bang, the animation begins. Not being one of those Christians who thinks that the Bible’s account of creation and the scientific theory of evolution are at odds with each other, I would’ve loved to see Walt Disney’s original intention for this segment that extended through parts of the evolution process into the beginning of humanity on the earth. But of course the 1940 creationists protested, and Disney eventually gave in even though he considered himself a Christian just like those creationists. Nevertheless, what we’re left with is still a wondrous picture of what the creation of the world may have looked like.

With Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony,” we’re taken to a world of Greek mythological creatures. There’s a nice romance between a couple of centaurs, but other that not much of a narrative in the traditional sense. Instead we’re told the story of imagination and invention of worlds that exist only the minds of artists. In other words, we’re told a story of how Walt Disney himself (as well as his animators, the musicians, and the composers responsible for the music in Fantasia) can introduce us to new worlds and new experiences through their art.

The segment using Ponchielli’s very short piece “Dance of the Hours” takes us briefly away from the high art we’ve seen up to this point. Hippos, elephants and alligators are all in tutus. Sometimes they dance. Sometimes they fight. Sometimes we don’t know what they’re doing. But it’s always delightful. It’s child-like in playfulness and innocence, just like the “Dance of the Hours.”

The final section combines two pieces that couldn’t seem less compatible with each other, but the combination ties together the whole movie in a way that shows us we have actually seen a story after all. We’ve seen a very tightly woven story that begins vague, without shape or form, just as the Bible says about the world before the act of creation. But in the last segment, all the shape and form has come together as we a final attempt of demonic creatures to gain control over the world to the sounds of Mussorgsky’s haunting and terrifying “Night on Bald Mountain.” But the sound of church bells and a few flashes of light into their dark and menacing existence show their defeat as we hear Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Alluding to the person through which Christ came into the world in the Schubert piece, the film concludes with the story of ultimate victory over all darkness.

Those themes of light and darkness permeate all of Fantasia and are the key to knowing what the whole story is about. So, we’re invited by various art forms to be reached in our souls. We experience aspects of cultures and traditions that influence how people become who they are. We get a fable about how dangerous our seemingly good intentions can be if they’re not acted out wisely and with pure motives. We’re transported to a world of imagination and creativity. We see a vision of the world we live in came into being. We embrace the joy and innocence of childhood. And we see the battle between spiritual forces of good and evil at work in the unseen realm of the world we live in. So, in Fantasia, we get a story like no other, but it’s nevertheless a complete and complex story. It’s the very story of the human soul.

List: Best Remakes

Like the list of movie series I published last week with sequels and prequels, remakes happen in Hollywood all the time, and Hollywood gets slammed for its lack of creativity. But there are have been some good remakes, even some great ones that you might not have even known were remakes.

10. Cinderella (2015)
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Disney’s live-action remake of its own 1950 animated film that was based on the classic fairy tale.

9. Hairspray (2007)
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Adaptation of the Broadway musical that was based on John Waters’ 1988 movie of the same title.

8. Sling Blade (1996)
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A remake of the 1994 short film Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade written by and starring Billy Bob Thornton, just like the remake.

7. Seventh Heaven (1937)
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A talkie based on the 1927 silent masterpiece 7th Heaven which was based on the same French play.

6. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
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Adaptation of the stage musical based on Roger Corman’s 1960 campy horror movie The Little Shop of Horrors featuring Jack Nicholson in one of his first movies.

5. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
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Live action update of Disney’s 1991 animated feature based on the classic fairy tale.

4. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
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Western adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s action film Seven Samurai.

3. The Departed (2006)
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Remake of the Infernal Affairs trilogy from Hong Kong.

2. Whiplash (2014)
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Remake of Damien Chazelle’s own 2013 short film which also starred J.K. Simmons in the role of Fletcher.

1. A Star Is Born (1954)
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One of several remakes (and by far the best version) of George Cuckor’s 1932 film What Price Hollywood?.

 

Stagecoach (1939)

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As a classic movie buff with an appreciation for film criticism, naturally I have great admiration for Roger Ebert’s work. Of course I disagree with him often on subjective matters, but there’s only one thing I know of that he ever said about movies that I believe was completely false. When discussing Westerns that John Ford directed and John Wayne starred in, he lumps them together with the many other Westerns of the time with regards to their views on Native Americans. About Stagecoach, he wrote, “The film’s attitudes toward Native Americans are unenlightened. The Apaches are seen simply as murderous savages; there is no suggestion the white men have invaded their land. Ford shared that view with countless other makers of Westerns, and if it was crude in 1939 it was even mores as late as The Searchers (1956).” But this is neither the same Stagecoach nor Searchers that I have seen multiple times.

Stagecoach is set entirely on a stagecoach, as the title implies. We see the world entirely through the eyes of those either driving or riding in the stagecoach. And we also see a completely different world right within the stagecoach. It’s a divided world with only 9 people but 9 people who couldn’t be more different from each other and who are all bound by different prejudice. How they act to each other is determined by their individual prejudices. Since we are seeing the bigger world through their eyes, how we see it (and the Native Americans in it) depends on which character is our lens at any given point in the movie.

Because of this vantage point, Stagecoach is not unenlightened. It is shockingly enlightened for 1939 by showing us how unenlightened people perceive the world around them. Stagecoach is entirely a movie about prejudice. Because the story revolves around the prejudices the stagecoach riders and drivers have about each other, their racial prejudices are only inferred through the way they talk about Apaches and the way they react when they encounter a Mexican American character (a couple of whom are genuinely accepting and kind, a couple are blatantly hateful, and most of them are just blinded to their own biases and unenlightened as Ebert would say). The way the 9 white people act toward each other, therefore, tells us most of what we need to know about how prejudiced they are. What we learn about each one through their relations with each other is confirmed near the end when they encounter the Apaches.

The most interesting characters in the stagecoach are The Ringo Kid (John Wayne), a convicted murder and Dallas (Claire Trevor), a prostitute. How the other characters come to terms with having a convicted murder and a prostitute in their midst determines how they act towards the Apaches. These two characters are seen by the world around them as the least moral, yet they’re most moral people on the stagecoach. They’re the quickest to understand that people aren’t always who they appear to be on the surface, that their circumstances may have painted pictures of them that aren’t true. We’re never told for sure the circumstances of why Ringo committed murder. We’re actually not even told for certain that he is guilty. And we know that Dallas’ lot in life has not been a good one and that there are probably situations beyond her control that led to her “profession” beyond a simple lack of morality. Yet we’re not told what any of those situations are; we need to look beyond the surface for ourselves. Stagecoach challenges us to always look beyond the simplistic answers we want to find for why people do what they do and who they really are. These complex characters may be full of prejudice, but they force us to watch without prejudice.

As an audience, even an unenlightened white audience in 1939, learned to care about these 9 characters without prejudice, they’re then forced to ask questions about the Apaches. Why are they attacking the stagecoach? In the film’s opening, the stagecoach driver is advised not to take the trip because they are likely to encounter Geronimo on the way. That sets a historical grounding that shows these Apaches have been attacked first. They’re at war with those trying to take their land. So, are they really the savages the people on the stagecoach think they are, or are they acting in reasonable defense because the white men invaded their land? Ebert doesn’t seem to think these questions are raised because Stagecoach is a movie about prejudice that does show Native Americans through the very negative, stereotyped point of view of those 9 white people aboard the stagecoach. But exactly because it is a movie about prejudice, the prejudices against Native Americans are underneath the surface of everything that happens on the stagecoach, so these questions are center to the whole movie. As it challenges us to ask difficult questions about why the characters view others as they do, it then challenges us to ask how we might be wrong in our beliefs about others.

List: Best Films in a Movie Series

Sequels, prequels and other movies that fall in part of a series are often maligned, but that’s just because studios put out too many of them. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some great ones. This list includes a movie that fits into a film series at any stage, so even the original movie in a series in eligible just as long as the series consists of 3 or more movies.

10. The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
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Other great films in the series: The Karate Kid (1984)

9. Shrek (2001)
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Sequels and character follow-ups abound, and a couple of them (Shrek 2Puss-in-Boots) are quite good. But it is all because of how great the characters in the original are. None can come close to the first film.

8. Despicable Me (2010)
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Other great films in the series: Despicable Me 2 (2013) & Minions (2015)

7. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
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I’m not as enamored by Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy as most people, but I do find the first entry (and only the first entry) to be an immersive entry into the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien.

6. Batman Begins (2005)
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I may be the only person in the world that thinks the first entry in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series is the best and only great movie in the series. But the series begins by showing Bruce Wayne’s motivation for justice in a way reminiscent of On the Waterfront, one of the greatest movies of all time, and something previously unheard of for a superhero movie. As the series gradually moves away from this and becomes more fantasy, it doesn’t invite us into the fantasy as well as the comics did and leaves the first movie just hanging by itself longing to be remembered in a way it should be. But it’s unfortunately been overshadowed by the bloated, overwrought Dark Knight that’s almost laughable in how seriously it takes itself as opposed to this film that is naturally suited to be taken seriously.

5. La cage aux folles (1978)
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One of the funniest movies ever made, this French masterpiece spawned two sequels and an American remake, none of which lived up to the brilliance of the original, though Mike Nichols’ remake with Nathan Lane, Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest and Hank Azaria does have its charms and a great cast.

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
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The first entry Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy and the one I’ve seen, not to be confused with the inferior David Fincher American remake.

3. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
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The third entry in the “Man with No Name” trilogy and the only one I’ve seen.

2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

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Other great films in the series: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi (1983) & Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

 

1. The Godfather Part II (1974)
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Part II is the best entry in the Godfather trilogy, but the trilogy is the exception to the rule. It’s the only movie series where every one of it’s movies is one of the greatest films ever made. See my reviews of each one: The GodfatherThe Godfather Part II, and The Godfather Part III.

 

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

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When Klaatu (Michael Rennie) gets off the spaceship to announce his peaceful intentions, he’s met by soldiers completely surrounding the spaceship and the best artillery the U.S. Armed Forces have to offer. It all happens quietly so we observe the crowd watching the monumentous event. We’re not invited to pay much attention to Klaatu yet because we’re too busy watching the different reactions of the crowd. The soldiers and police officers are fully on guard ready to meet any perceived threat with violence. The adults behind them are shaking and screaming. But then there’s the children in the crowd. The kids aren’t scared. The kids aren’t on alert. The kids are in awe. They are the only ones that understand the magnitude of what it happening, who aren’t willing to let fear and prejudice cloud the awesome experience for them.

After we get to observe this for a while, Klaatu reaches inside his clothing to get a gift he intends to present to the U.S. president. But the soldiers assume he’s reaching for a weapon, so out of their fear they shoot. Klaatu is only mildly injured, but we see very dramatically from this opening that we are about to watch a cautionary tale. Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still strongly warns against reactionist beliefs that wrongly perceive threat and use those perceived threats as self-justification for violent action. Watching the movie today, it’s impossible not to see parallels between the world Klaatu confronts and the racially-motivated police brutality we see so often in America.

Klaatu is a the voice of reason sent to Earth to prevent an intergalactic catastrophe that earthlings were about to unwittingly cause. Wars, social injustice and personal prejudice impact the world (or worlds) in ways more far-reaching than anyone committing or victimized by those sins can understand. That’s the message of The Day the Earth Stood Still and that’s the prophetic message Klaatu is sent to Earth to give to all the people of Earth at once in order to save all intelligent life.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is a parable quite similar to Jesus’ most famous parable, the story of the Good Samaritan. Both stories are answers to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Klaatu announces himself as a neighbor immediately, telling everyone he comes in contact with that their limitations of who they consider a neighbor is the very thing destroying their planet and putting other planets at risk of the same destruction.

The movie’s backdrop of the Cold War is mentioned briefly as one character thinks that the spaceman isn’t really a spaceman but a clever disguise of Russians attacking them. Klaatu’s message is that Americans and Russians in the midst of the Cold War are neighbors who must make peace in order to save the planet. Another backdrop for the movie is the American civil rights movement at an early stage in 1951. Several scenes show African American people joining with whites to watch the events where the spaceship landed. The movie never names the issue of racism, yet Klaatu has a message for all people who are unwilling to receive those of another race as their neighbors. His message is that the very survival of humanity depends on the fair and loving treatment of all people.

Because Klaatu’s message is so similar to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a movie that will always have an important message for all people. 67 years after the film was made, Klaatu still has a message for the Earth. If we continue to act out of fear instead of reason and faith, we will destroy humanity. If we continue reacting to perceived threats and to fear all that we don’t understand, we will destroy humanity. If we refuse to recognize all people of all nations as our neighbors to whom we are obligated to live in peace with, we will destroy humanity. If we continue to prefer a people group over others, we will destroy humanity. If we continue to neglect our responsibility to our neighbors in underprivileged nations whose food supplies are cut off by our wasteful damage to the environment, we will destroy humanity. If we continue to reject future generations as our neighbors by that same wasteful behavior, we will destroy humanity.

But despite the doom and gloom I’ve written about, Klaatu’s message is ultimately a message of hope. If we turn from all these actions and recognize all people as our neighbors, we won’t destroy humanity. We have the power and the responsibility as a collective human race to make it a better place. We have far more power over our generation than most of us realize, and once we exercise that power in unity and love, we  can be a generation that has a role in saving the world.

First 100 Masterpieces

Earlier this week, I published by 100th classic film review on Exploring Film Masterpieces. See all 100 of them at the links that follow from the first one I published in May 2016 through this week’s.

David and Lisa (1962)

Guys and Dolls (1955)

Stalag 17 (1953)

The Color Purple (1985)

A View from the Bridge (1962)

River of No Return (1954)

The Snake Pit (1948)

The Godfather (1972)

Citizen Kane (1941)

Fargo (1996)

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Ben-Hur (1959)

The Godfather Part II (1974)

Psycho (1960)

A Place in the Sun (1951)

Sunset Blvd. (1950)

All about Eve (1950)

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

A Tale of Two Cities (1935)

Rebecca (1940)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Frankenstein (1931)

The Yacoubian Building (2006)

Saboteur (1942)

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Home for the Holidays (1995)

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Bad Seed (1956)

Casablanca (1942)

Joyeux Noel (2005)

The Gold Rush (1925)

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

The Right Stuff (1983)

Monsieur Vincent (1947)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Gaslight (1944)

On Golden Pond (1981)

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

A Star Is Born (1954)

Rebel without a Cause (1955)

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

On the Waterfront (1954)

Intolerance: Love’s Struggle throughout the Ages (1916)

Rashomon (1950)

The Killing (1956)

Forrest Gump (1994)

Rome, Open City (1945)

Captains Courageous (1937)

M (1931)

The Great Dictator (1940)

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

12 Angry Men (1957)

Compulsion (1959)

Modern Times (1936)

Do the Right Thing (198)

Chinatown (1974)

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Easy Rider (1969)

The Full Monty (1997)

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Wings of Desire (1987)

The Clowns (1970)

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Notorious (1942)

7th Heaven (1927)

The Godfather Part III (1990)

Blade Runner (1982)

The Lost Weekend (1945)

Vertigo (1958)

(1963)

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

Lola (1961)

Paths of Glory (1957)

What’s Cooking? (2000)

The Immigrant (1917)

Now, Voyager (1942)

Belle de jour (1967)

Unforgiven (1992)

Ikiru (1952)

Les Misérables (2012)

Conrack (1974)

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Mary Poppins (1964)

Pulp Fiction (1994)

The Apartment (1960)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Searchers (1956)

Spellbound (1945)

Persepolis (2007)

The Chair (1963)

Metropolis (1927)

Amadeus (1984)

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)