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Project: Ebert’s Great Movies

written by rick February 25, 2015
Project: Ebert’s Great Movies

So, now that the awards season is blissfully over, let’s talk about some other movies. Specifically, 370 of them.

After watching Steve James’ remarkable documentary Life Itself (excuse me while I go weep), I got to thinking about Roger Ebert. His books are cultural touchstones for film fans, and, like many other people, I’ve related to him fiercely. Reading Ebert’s review is often one of the first things I want to do when I see a film I admire. And then, I remember watching At The Movies as a kid, and specifically as a kid who didn’t even go to very many movies. I was excited to see the clips, and interested in the two mismatched dudes who got all worked up about them. He seemed like everyone’s mostly genial uncle, who also happened to have a lot of thoughts about every movie imaginable.

Later, I came to appreciate Ebert for his populist sensibility and unwavering enthusiasm. He put out clear, smart writing in a distinct voice, more or less relating what he thought of the movie (which he always wanted to enjoy and hoped wouldn’t disappoint) and what he thought you, the reader, would find if you checked it out.

If you get technical about it, Ebert’s famous notion of film as an “empathy machine” might not be exactly right. But that generous, humanistic sentiment is valuable, and neatly encapsulates everything admirable about his approach.

More pragmatically, as several folks in Life Itself point out, he raised the profile of the films he championed, giving vital access to filmmakers (Erroll Morris, Gregory Nava, Ava Duvernay, Ramin Bahrani, among others, not to mention Hoop Dreams‘ Steve James, who also made Life Itself) who might not have found an audience without him, and he might’ve even literally saved a few people along the way.

And last but not least, in his eminently understandable reviews throughout Roger Ebert’s Great Movies series, he provided his own canon. It’s ironic that he’s so associated with categorical and canonical judgements, since he is on record as despising “best of” lists and the dispiriting, professionally-mandated task of composing them. He preferred to just list movies side by side which he thought were “great,” rather than pitting them against each other like we do every year at awards shows. It’s a noble thought maybe undermined by itself; hierarchical or not, in the end, there’s still a list.

The films profiled (searchable on Ebert’s site, and listed below) represent one (extremely influential and sharp) person’s singular account of cinema history, so there are some unexpected entries. And a whole lot of omissions, since everyone has blind spots and even long lists exclude things by definition. But it’s also a pretty accurate and useful compilation of some of the films that linger in the cultural imagination.

Which brings me to The Plan, as I’ve started calling it (you can even hear the capitalization when I say it aloud): There are 370 movies here, and I plan to watch them all. Is it following Phish and Insane Clown Posse for a while, and slowly going mad? It is not. But it’s The Plan.

The Plan is also to watch them chronologically, revisiting those I’ve seen before and hopefully discovering new (or, more likely, old) masterpieces. I also Plan to write them up individually, with possible assistance from friends (seriously, people, pitch in a little here. You know who you are). I’ll update this page as I do so.

Because these titles tend to focus on U.S., European, and Japanese films, and mostly represent Global Straight Dude Cinema, The Plan gets even more involved: I’m also going to counter-program this series with something else. Why construct one elaborate project when you can construct two?

But that’s a story for another day (probably tomorrow). For now, I just hope that this project will clue me (and the viewing audience at home! Hi, you two!) into themes and echoes across the years, and lead to a better understanding of how an art form works.

And if I fail to clear that bar? At least I’ll still have Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Come and See to look forward to — both were hilarious, I think!

P.S. I was inspired, in part, to do this by the maniac/admirably committed cineaste over at Another Goddamn Movie Blog, who’s taken on something even more ambitious: all films mentioned in Marc Cousins’ The Story Of Film. This is a Werner Herzog-like reach for the impossible that should have everyone’s full support. In fact, that list also has a certain something going for it that this one lacks (it’s Robocop), so you should go read that stuff.

Cabiria1914Giovanni Pastrone
The Birth of a Nation1915D.W. Griffith
Broken Blossoms1919D.W. Griffith
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari1920Robert Wiene
Nosferatu1922F.W. Murnau
Nanook of the North1922Robert J. Flaherty
Safety Last1923Fred C. Newmeyer
Souls for Sale1923Rupert Hughes
Greed1924Erich von Stroheim
The Last Laugh1924F.W. Murnau
The Phantom of the Opera1925Rupert Julian
The Battleship Potemkin1925Sergei Eisenstein
The General1926Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
Faust1926F.W. Murnau
Sunrise1927F.W. Murnau
Metropolis1927Fritz Lang
The Passion of Joan of Arc1928Carl Th. Dreyer
The Circus1928Charlie Chaplin
The Fall of the House of Usher1928Jean Epstein
The Man Who Laughs1928Paul Leni
Man With A Movie Camera1929Dziga Vertov
Pandora’s Box1929Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Diary of a Lost Girl1929Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Un Chien Andalou1929Luis Bunuel
City Lights1931Charlie Chaplin
M1931Fritz Lang
Dracula1931Tod Browning
Trouble in Paradise1932Ernst Lubitsch
King Kong1933Various
Duck Soup1933Leo McCarey
L’Atalante1934Jean Vigo
The Scarlet Empress1934Josef von Sternberg
The Thin Man1934W.S. Van Dyke
Bride of Frankenstein1935James Whale
Triumph of the Will1935Leni Riefenstahl
Top Hat1935Mark Sandrich
Swing Time1936George Stevens
My Man Godfrey1936Gregory La Cava
The Only Son1936Yasujiro Ozu
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs1937Various
Grand Illusion1937Jean Renoir
Make Way for Tomorrow1937Leo McCarey
The Adventures of Robin Hood1938Michael Curtiz, William Keighley
The Rules of the Game1939Jean Renoir
Stagecoach1939John Ford
Gone With The Wind1939Victor Fleming
The Wizard of Oz1939Victor Fleming
The Great Dictator1940Charlie Chaplin
The Bank Dick1940Edward F. Cline
The Thief of Bagdad1940Various
The Grapes of Wrath1940John Ford
The Maltese Falcon1941John Huston
Citizen Kane1941Orson Welles
The Lady Eve1941Preston Sturges
Cat People1942Jacques Tourneur
Casablanca1942Michael Curtiz
Yankee Doodle Dandy1942Michael Curtiz
Shadow of a Doubt1943Alfred Hitchcock
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp1943Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Double Indemnity1944Billy Wilder
Laura1944Otto Preminger
Detour1945Edgar G. Ulmer
Children of Paradise1945Michael Carne
Ivan The Terrible, Part I1945Sergei Eisenstein
Notorious1946Alfred Hitchcock
Great Expectations1946David Lean
It’s a Wonderful Life1946Frank Capra
The Big Sleep1946Howard Hawks
Beauty and the Beast1946Jean Cocteau
My Darling Clementine1946John Ford
The Best Years of Our Lives1946William Wyler
Out of the Past1947Jacques Tourneur
Red River1948Howard Hawks, Arthur Rosson
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre1948John Huston
The Red Shoes1948Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
The Bicycle Thief1948Vittorio De Sica
The Third Man1949Carol Reed
Kind Hearts and Coronets1949Robert Hamer
Late Spring1949Yasujiro Ozu
Rashomon1950Akira Kurosawa
Sunset Boulevard1950Billy Wilder
Orpheus1950Jean Cocteau
All About Eve1950Joseph L. Mankiewicz
In A Lonely Place1950Nicholas Ray
Strangers on a Train1951Alfred Hitchock
Ace in the Hole1951Billy Wilder
The River (Le Fleuve)1951Jean Renoir
Diary of a Country Priest1951Robert Bresson
Ikiru1952Akira Kurosawa
The Life of Oharu1952Kenji Mizoguchi
Forbidden Games1952Rene Clement
Singin’ In The Rain1952Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Umberto D1952Vittorio De Sica
The Big Heat1953Fritz Lang
The Earrings of Madame D…1953Fritz Lang
Shane1953George Stevens
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday1953Jacques Tati
Beat The Devil1953John Huston
Ugetsu1953Kenji Mizoguchi
The Band Wagon1953Vincente Minnelli
Tokyo Story1953Yasujiro Ozu
The Seven Samurai1954Akira Kurosawa
Rear Window1954Alfred Hitchcock
On The Waterfront1954Elia Kazan
Touchez Pas Au Grisbi1954Jacques Becker
French Cancan1954Jean Renoir
Rififi1954Jules Dessin
Sansho The Bailiff1954Kenji Mizoguchi
Senso1954Luchino Visconti
Johnny Guitar1954Nicholas Ray
Ordet1955Carl Th. Dreyer
The Night of the Hunter1955Charles Laughton
Pather Panchali1955Satyajit Ray
Smiles of a Summer Night1955Ingmar Bergman
Rebel Without A Cause1955Nicholas Ray
Aparajito1956Satyajit Ray
Written on the Wind1956Douglas Sirk
Bob Le Flambeur1956Jean-Pierre Melville
The Searchers1956John Ford
A Man Escaped1956Robert Bresson
The Killing1956Stanley Kubrick
The Sweet Smell of Success1957Alexander Mackendrick
The Bridge on the River Kwai1957David Lean
Nights of Cabiria1957Federico Fellini
The Seventh Seal1957Ingmar Bergman
12 Angry Men1957Sidney Lumet
Paths of Glory1957Stanley Kubrick
Vertigo1958Alfred Hitchcock
Mon Oncle1958Jacques Tati
Ballad of Narayama1958Keisuke Kinoshita
Ivan The Terrible, Part II1958Sergei Eisenstein
Touch of Evil1958Orson Welles
The Music Room1958Satyajit Ray
Some Like It Hot1959Billy Wilder
Apur Sansar1959Satyajit Ray
The 400 Blows1959Francois Truffaut
Rio Bravo1959Howard Hawks
Pickpocket1959Robert Bresson
Floating Weeds1959Yasujiro Ozu
Psycho1960Alfred Hitchcock
The Apartment1960Billy Wilder
La Dolce Vita1960Federico Fellini
Breathless1960Jean-Luc Godard
Rocco and His Brothers1960Luchino Visconti
Peeping Tom1960Michael Powell
L’Avventura1960Michaelangelo Antonioni
Inherit The Wind1960Stanley Kramer
Yojimbo1961Akira Kurosawa
Last Year At Marienbad1961Alain Resnais
Victim1961Basil Dearden
Through a Glass Darkly1961Ingmar Bergman
Leon Morin, Priest1961Jean-Pierre Melville
West Side Story1961Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise
Viridiana1961Luis Bunuel
The Hustler1961Robert Rossen
Cleo from 5 to 71962Agnes Varda
Lawrence of Arabia1962David Lean
Jules and Jim1962Francois Truffaut
My Life To Live1962Jean-Luc Godard
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence1962John Ford
The Manchurian Candidate1962John Frankenheimer
The Exterminating Angel1962Luis Bunuel
Harakiri1962Masaki Kobayashi
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?1962Robert Aldrich
An Autumn Afternoon1962Yasujiro Ozu
8 1/21963Federico Fellini
Winter Light1963Ingmar Bergman
The Silence1963Ingmar Bergman
The Leopard1963Luchino Visconti
My Fair Lady1964George Cukor
Woman in the Dunes1964Hiroshi Teshigahara
Pale Flower1964Masahiro Shinoda
The Gospel According to St. Matthew1964Pier Paolo Pasolini
A Hard Day’s Night1964Richard Lester
Dr. Strangelove1964Stanley Kubrick
Seven Up!1946Paul Almond
Red Beard1965Akira Kurosawa
Juliet of the Spirits1965Federico Fellini
Chimes at Midnight1965Orson Welles
The Battle of Algiers1966Gillo Pontecorvo
Persona1966Ingmar Bergman
Blow-Up1966Michaelangelo Antonioni
Au Hasard Balthazar1966Robert Bresson
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly1966Sergio Leone
Bonnie and Clyde1967Arthur Penn
La Collectionneuse1967Eric Rohmer
Playtime1967Jacques Tati
Le Samourai1967Jean-Pierre Melville
Belle de Jour1967Luis Bunuel
Samurai Rebellion1967Masaki Kobayashi
The Producers1967Mel Brooks
The Fireman’s Ball1967Milos Forman
In Cold Blood1967Richard Brooks
Cool Hand Luke1967Stuart Rosenberg
Romeo and Juliet1968Franco Zeffirelli
Yellow Submarine1968George Dunning
2001: A Space Odyssey1968Stanley Kubrick
Easy Rider1969Dennis Hopper
Army of Shadows1969Jean-Pierre Melville
The Wild Bunch1969Sam Peckinpah
El Topo1970Alejandro Jodorowsky
Five Easy Pieces1970Bob Rafelson
Le Boucher1970Claude Chabrol
Patton1970Franklin J. Schaffner
7 Plus Seven1970Michael Apted
Woodstock1970Michael Wadleigh
Mon Oncle Antoine1971Claude Jutra
WR: Mysteries of the Organism1971Dusan Makavejev
Walkabout1971Nicholas Roeg
The Last Picture Show1971Peter Bogdonovich
McCabe and Mrs. Miller1971Robert Altman
Solaris1972Andrei Tarkovsky
Last Tango In Paris1972Bernardo Bertolucci
The Godfather1972Francis Ford Coppola
Cries and Whispers1972Ingmar Bergman
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie1972Luis Bunuel
Aguirre, The Wrath of God1972Werner Herzog
Amarcord1973Federico Fellini
Day For Night1973Francois Truffaut
Mean Streets1973Martin Scorcese
Don’t Look Now1973Nicholas Roeg
The Long Goodbye1973Robert Altman
Badlands1973Terrence Malick
Spirit of the Beehive1973Victor Erice
The Conversation1974Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather, Part II1974Francis Ford Coppola
A Woman Under The Influence1974John Cassavetes
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul1974Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Chinatown1974Roman Polanski
Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia1974Sam Peckinpah
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser1974Werner Herzog
Night Moves1975Arthur Penn
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest1975Milos Forman
Picnic at Hanging Rock1975Peter Weir
Nashville1975Robert Altman
Dog Day Afternoon1975Sidney Lumet
Barry Lyndon1975Stanley Kubrick
Jaws1975Steven Spielberg
Taxi Driver1976Martin Scorcese
Network1976Sidney Lumet
Heart of Glass1976Werner Herzog
21 Up1977Michael Apted
Star Wars1977George Lucas
Saturday Night Fever1977John Badham
3 Women1977Robert Altman
Stroszek1977Werner Herzog
Annie Hall1977Woody Allen
Killer of Sheep1978Charles Burnett
Gates of Heaven1978Errol Morris
Superman1978Richard Donner
Days of Heaven1978Terrence Malick
Apocalypse Now1979Francis Ford Coppola
Being There1979Hal Ashby
The Marriage of Maria Braun1979Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Alien1979Ridley Scott
Vengeance Is Mine1979Shohei Imamura
Nosferatu the Vampyre1979Werner Herzog
Manhattan1979Woody Allen
Mon Oncle D’Amerique1980Alain Resnais
Atlantic City1980Louis Malle
Raging Bull1980Martin Scorcese
The Big Red One1980Samuel Fuller
The Shining1980Stanley Kubrick
Pixote1981Hector Babenco
Mephisto1981Istvan Szabo
Diva1981Jean-Jacques Beineix
Body Heat1981Lawrence Kasdan
My Dinner With Andre1981Louis Malle
Raiders of the Lost Ark1981Steven Spielberg
Pink Floyd: The Wall1982Alan Parker
Fanny and Alexander1982Ingmar Bergman
Veronika Voss1982Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Blade Runner: The Final Cut1982Ridley Scott
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial1982Steven Spielberg
Fitzcarraldo1982Werner Herzog
A Christmas Story1983Bob Clark
Scarface1983Brian DePalma
Tender Mercies1983Bruce Beresford
El Norte1983Gregory Nava
The Right Stuff1983Philip Kaufmann
28 Up1984Michael Apted
A Sunday in the Country1984Bertrand Tavernier
A Year of the Quiet Sun1984Krzysztof Zanussi
Amadeus1984Milos Forman
This Is Spinal Tap1984Rob Reiner
Paris, Texas1984Wim Wenders
Ran1985Akira Kurosawa
Shoah1985Claude Lanzmann
Come and See1985Elem Klimov
After Hours1985Martin Scorcese
Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters1985Paul Schrader
The Color Purple1985Steven Spielberg
Withnail and I1987Bruce Robinson
House of Games1987David Mamet
Planes, Trains and Automobiles1987John Hughes
The Dead1987John Huston
Au Revoir Les Enfants1987Louis Malle
Moonstruck1987Norman Jewison
Wings of Desire1987Wim Wenders
My Neighbor Totoro1988Hayao Miyazaki
Grave of the Fireflies1988Isao Takahata
The Last Temptation of Christ1988Martin Scorcese
Santa Sangre1989Alejandro Jodorowsky
Say Anything1989Cameron Crowe
Mystery Train1989Jim Jarmusch
Monsieur Hire1989Patrice Leconte
Do The Right Thing1989Spike Lee
Crimes and Misdemanors1989Woody Allen
The Match Factory Girl1990Aki Kaurismaki
After Dark, My Sweet1990James Foley
Goodfellas1990Martin Scorcese
The Hairdresser’s Husband1990Patrice Leconte
35 Up1991Michael Apted
La Belle Noiseuse1991Jacques Rivette
The Silence of the Lambs1991Jonathan Demme
The Double Life of Veronique1991Krzysztof Kieslowski
JFK1991Oliver Stone
A Woman’s Tale1991Paul Cox
Raise The Red Lantern1991Yimou Zhang
Unforgiven1992Clint Eastwood
A Tale of Winter1992Eric Rohmer
Howards End1992James Ivory
Leolo1992Jean-Claude Lauzon
Baraka1992Ron Fricke
Groundhog Day1993Harold Ramis
The Age of Innocence1993Martin Scorcese
Schindler’s List1993Steven Spielberg
The Blue Kite1993Zhuangzhuang Tian
Exotica1994Atom Egoyan
The Shawshank Redemption1994Frank Darabont
Pulp Fiction1994Quentin Tarantino
Hoop Dreams1994Steve James
Crumb1994Terry Zwigoff
La Ceremonie1995Claude Chabrol
Seven1995David Fincher
Leaving Las Vegas1995Mike Figgis
Richard III1995Richard Loncraine
Fargo1996Joel Coen
Secrets and Lies1996Mike Leigh
L.A. Confidential1997Curtis Hanson
Contact1997Robert Zemeckis
42 Up1998Michael Apted
Dark City1998Alex Proyas
The Big Lebowski1998Joel Coen
The Decalogue1998Krzysztof Kieslowski
The Terrorist1998Santosh Sivan
Magnolia1999P.T. Anderson
Werckmeister Harmonies2000Bela Tarr
Mulholland Dr.2001David Lynch
Spirited Away2001Hiyao Miyazaki
Waking Life2001Richard Linklater
The Pledge2001Sean Penn
A.I. Artificial Intelligence2001Steven Spielberg
The Grey Zone2001Tim Blake Nelson
Ripley’s Game2002Liliana Cavani
Adaptation2002Spike Jonze
25th Hour2002Spike Lee
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … And Spring2003Ki-duk Kim
Lost In Translation2003Sofia Coppola
Moolaade2004Ousmane Sembene
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind2004Spike Jonze
49 Up2005Michael Apted
Cache2005Michael Haneke
Babel2006Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Pan’s Labyrinth2006Guillermo del Toro
A Prairie Home Companion2006Robert Altman
Chop Shop2007Ramin Bahrani
Departures2008Yojiro Takita
56 Up2012Michael Apted

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