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Movie mania has gripped Not in Hall of Fame recently—hooray for Hollywood! (And Bollywood, and Hong Kong, and London, and Vancouver, and everywhere else that movies are made today.)

Without wanting to steal any thunder from my fellow bloggers Lisa McDonald (AKA Live Music Head) and Jack Ferdman (Jack's Movie Lists), both of whom have got the ball rolling on movies in fine style, I too want to jump in with my contributions as I am definitely a movie buff as well.

However, I will have to reach into the archives this time and dust off one of those hoary old "Desert Island" exercises from some time past. Looking at the list of the top ten, though, I don't see any changes, and here's why: the channel-surf stop test.

The Channel-Surf Stop Test

What? You don't know about the channel-surf stop test? You might not know the term, but I know you know how it works.

It's been a long day—you've worked hard, played hard, fulfilled your obligations, and now you settle in on the couch, remote control in hand, looking to find something on the television to watch as you unwind from a busy day. As you flip idly through the channels, you happen upon one of your favorite movies. You stop to watch. It doesn't matter how many times you've seen this movie. It doesn't matter where in the movie you've landed—you know it by heart, anyway—you stop to watch "this one scene." Or to hear "that line." The next thing you know, you've watched the movie all the way to the end. It's one of your favorites. You will watch it regardless.

That's the channel-surf stop test. Any movie that passes the test is automatically a candidate for any desert island list.

True story: Not too long ago I took a couple of friends to a "Classic Movie Night" at one of our local cinemas; it was showing Goodfellas. By some strange quirk, neither had seen it before. Not two nights later, as I was idly flipping through the channels late one night, I stumbled onto Goodfellas as it was just starting.

Now, I've seen Goodfellas a few times before. I have a DVD copy. I had just seen it two nights previously.

I sat there and watched it again, from end to end. The power of the channel-surf stop test.

Keep in mind, "desert island" selections are not lists of "the best" or "the greatest" films—at least mine isn't. They are a list of favorites, the movies that you can watch again and again, and they don't lose their luster. So, with that in mind . . .

Honorable Mention

. . . I cannot list a list without a preamble. So, this is a list of those that juuuust missed the big list. Of course, my initial list of "juuuust misses" had more than 50 films on it—either I need to get out more, and not just to the cinema, or I need to move onto other movies. Somehow I managed to whittle the list down to a mere 25 honorable mentions, which is still pretty ridiculous but perhaps you won't mind—all of these have passed the channel-surf stop test.

25. Eight Men Out (1988). Writer-director John Sayles packs in so much—baseball, hubris, conspiracy, recrimination, regret—that I soak up a new facet every time. Besides, I'll watch David Strathairn act any time.

24. The Andromeda Strain (1971). It can be too methodical, even plodding, at times, and director Robert Wise's style and design shows its age, but I still get spooked by the premise, and Kate Reid is still a feisty hoot.

23. The Sand Pebbles (1966). Another Robert Wise triumph, stretched a bit too thinly perhaps, although this is one of Steve McQueen's best performances; meanwhile, the political impact remains intact—and timeless.

22. Dr. Strangelove (1964). Made back when director Stanley Kubrick still had some humanity and emotional engagement in him—and he managed to blend geopolitical sophistication and locker-room sniggering into the blackest of comedy.

21. Ghostbusters (1984). Sure, the effects and soundtrack are dated. Director Ivan Reitman rose to the occasion here, and this is more than just Bill Murray's show—the ensemble cast always brings this one home. "You're more like a . . . game show host."

20. Ed Wood (1994). Big Fish comes pretty close, but this might be director Tim Burton's most touching film because his affection for the real-life Wood seems genuine. And, yes, Martin Landau is (ahem) spellbinding. He must be Hungarian and double-jointed.

19. Touch of Evil (1958). Just accept that this grimy, atmospheric who-cares-whodunit is gloriously rococo from the sweeping opening shot to Henry Mancini's score to Charlton Heston's risibly Anglo Mexican. It is also Orson Welles's best film since you-know-what.

18. Kelly's Heroes (1970). This Clint Eastwood vehicle never decides whether it's a caper flick, a combat film, or a comedy, so it mixes all three in a bold genre nose-tweak to emerge as the war-movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

17. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). When was the last time you saw a delightful—endearing, even—Woody Allen film? Allen and Diane Keaton are a big part of that, as are Alan Alda and a chops-licking Anjelica Huston. "Try giving her the present."

16. Apocalypse Now (1979)/Apocalypse Now Redux (2001). I didn't care for this initially, but the more I studied the Vietnam war the more it made sense. And Redux isn't just bonus footage—it recasts Martin Sheen's odyssey in an eye-opening new context.

15. Doctor Zhivago (1965). Lawrence of Arabia is grander, better. But Zhivago is more haunting, yearning, as befits a tragic love story writ large across the steppes. Yes, I'm a sucker for one of those—as long as it has villains like Komarovsky and Strelnikov.

14. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). William Goldman's sainted screenplays are losing their luster for me, but George Roy Hill's direction and the Newman-Redford double-punch make it hard not to stop and watch. Again.

13. The Great Escape (1963). This story never seems to get old, from the meticulous planning to the split-second execution to the pursuits across the Third Reich. The rich cast doesn't hurt, either, although director John Sturges makes it memorable.

12. Shaun of the Dead (2004). There are times throughout when this hilarious zombie spoof seems almost perfect. It never flags, and it never once winks at the camera to let you know how clever it thinks it is. Meet you down at the Winchester, then?

11. The Day of the Jackal (1973). Damn, is Edward Fox mesmerizing here. Director Fred Zinnemann sets it up so well that I always find myself rooting for Fox. And Mich(a)el Lonsdale is also terrific—enough to make me forgive him for Moonraker.

10. This Is Spinal Tap (1984). When spoofers love the subject they're satirizing (see: Shaun of the Dead), the jest goes well past eleven. Sheer headbanging bliss—and it takes the mickey out of Scorsese's portentous The Last Waltz to boot.

9. Bullitt (1968). Umpteen times seeing it and I'm still not sure I understand the story. So I keep watching. Much more than just the car chase, though—although that still blows the doors off today's CGI fantasies. Lalo Schifrin's score still kills, too.

8. State and Main (2000). Not only David Mamet's crackling dialog but the array of talent delivering it make this comic homage to Day for Night compulsively watchable. William H. Macy already has a spot reserved in actors' heaven based just on this.

7. Mister Roberts (1955). No matter how many times I see Jack Lemmon choke up at the end, I choke up too—Henry Fonda's Doug Roberts was just that kind of guy. William Powell is a sly old dog, and James Cagney is secretly brilliant here.

6. Rear Window (1954). The modest, stage-like set conceals the fact that this is one of Hitchcock's greatest efforts—who would have figured James Stewart for a Peeping Tom? Thelma Ritter is in a class by herself—and can you spot Mr. Drucker across the way?

5. Young Frankenstein (1974). Is there a line of dialog here that hasn't been quoted yet? Mel Brooks at the top of his game—but Gene Wilder owns this one. All right—he has to share with Marty Feldman. And Teri Garr. And Madeleine Kahn. And Peter Boyle.

4. The Right Stuff (1983). Having read Tom Wolfe's whooshing book enough times, I still wince at writer-director Philip Kaufman's clunky copy-and-paste job with the script. But the cast goes higher, farther, and faster than any American. Still a thrill.

3. The American President (1995). Yes, too much Aaron Sorkin can give you a case of the glibs. But Michael Douglas and Annette Bening really sell his Howard-Hawks -meets-Frank-Capra-at-the-Watergate-Bar dialog, as does the supporting cast.

2. L.A. Confidential (1997). A masterful crime epic, convincingly old-school yet thoroughly conversant in modern storytelling. The third great "L.A. noir" classic with The Big Sleep and Chinatown. Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, and Kevin Spacey excel.

1. The Maltese Falcon (1941). John Huston's brilliant directorial debut must also sub for a passel of film noirs that didn't make this cut. This riveting tale of the title dingus also taught me about chiaroscuro—the play of light and shadow. Been hooked ever since.

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Last modified on Thursday, 22 March 2018 01:55

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