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“I would love to believe that modern children would sit down and watch lovely Lassie frolic with Timmy in the meadow. But I fear they would get awfully bored unless she turned into a superdog that blows things up, and that would be sacrilege.”

JEANINE BASINGER, film historian
talk back to Shadows...
The most-asked question:
W H A T ’ S   Y O U R   F A V O U R I T E   F I L M ?
Shadows all-time top 100 filmsThis is certainly a loaded question. A favourite film is a deeply personal thing, and the one I choose may seem like rubbish to someone else. But I'll never argue against your decision to name Rambo III as the best film you've ever seen (even though I know better). And so I have a rather muddled answer to that question - this is actually my Top 100. But there are two titles that spring to mind for very different reasons. The first is...

the stunt man The Stunt Man (Richard Rush, 80)
"If God could do the things we can do, he'd be a happy man."
This little-seen masterpiece stars Peter O'Toole as a maniacal film director who protects a fugitive (Steve Railsback) by making him a stunt man on his set. The trick is this: The previous stunt man was killed when a stunt went wrong, and if police find out they'll close down production. So the two men are dependent on each other. And while they strike up a friendship, they both don't like the fact that their fates are in each others' hands. There's more: The director finds in the fugitive the spark he needs to complete his World War I film; the fugitive needs the film crew (especially Barbara Hershey as the lead actress) to help clear the cobwebs in his own head. Amid all this is an examination of the fine line between reality and illusion. What better place to study this than on a film set? Oscar nominations for Rush and O'Toole; sadly no awards.

Only one other film has been able to get as deeply under my skin, and it's a franchise:

star wars: episodes 4, 5, 6 star wars: episodes 1, 2, 3 star wars: episodes 4, 5, 6 Star Wars: A New Hope (George Lucas, 77)
The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 80)
Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand, 83)
See also: The Phantom Menace (Lucas, 99), Attack of the Clones (Lucas, 02), Revenge of the Sith (Lucas, 05), The Force Awakens (Abrams, 15), Rogue One (Edwards, 16).
"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...."
Pure exuberance and excitement in the cinema simply can't be matched by watching these films on video. There's a reason why the original trilogy has tapped so deeply into the culture: story-telling simplicity that appeals to the dreamer in us, cool imagery, a sense of humour and irony, a coherently created universe. Empire is the best of the lot (better character development, more action, Yoda), but the first is sheer magic, and the third nicely ties up this part of the story (although that last shot turns my stomach). The prequel trilogy is more troublesome, but it has its moments. And it's becoming rather clear that the sequel trilogy is departing from Lucas' original plot-sketch for the overarching story of the Skywalker family. But it's still a universe that's worth entering - a space opera without the heavy sci-fi.

Now for the rest of the answer, broken into three groupings:

F I L M S   T H A T   S P E A K

  • La Strada (Federico Fellini, 54) about love and loyalty
  • Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 55) about the human condition
  • Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 53) about finding your true family
  • The Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 57) about love and respect
  • Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 99) on identity, desire, fame
  • Dead Man Walking (Tim Robbins, 95) about the value of life
  • Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 89) on racism
  • My Left Foot (Jim Sheridan, 89) on struggling with adversity
  • The Colour of Paradise (Majid Majidi, 99), about beauty
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 04) on the complexity of memory
  • Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 69) on real compassion
  • The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 39) on childhood imagination
  • Drugstore Cowboy (Gus Van Sant, 89) on addiction
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 46) on the the flip side of triumph
  • Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears, 88) on manipulation
  • Kiss of the Spider Woman (Hector Babenco, 85) about love for your fellow man


  • Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 41), the most amazingly original
  • Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 85), the most devastating
  • Sunrise (FW Murnau, 27), the most evocative
  • The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson, 01-03), the most passionate epic
  • American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 99), the most searing black comedy
  • Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 43), the most romantic
  • Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen, 52), the best musical film
  • Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 58), the most sinister film noir
  • Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 55), the creepiest thriller
  • Reds (Warren Beatty, 81), the most intelligent bio-epic
  • Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 60), the coolest anti-hero
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 48), the best look at greed
  • The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 35), the loveliest thriller
  • Anatomy of a Murder (Otto Preminger, 59), the most gripping courtroom drama
  • Airplane! (Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker, 80), the most ridiculous
  • Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 95), the most cleverly in-your-face
  • The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 62), the most surprising thriller
  • All About Eve (Joe Mankiewicz, 50), the most viciously funny
  • Body Heat (Lawrence Kasdan, 81), the steamiest double-whammy mystery
  • The Piano (Jane Campion, 93), the most darkly moving
  • Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 33), the zaniest
  • Smoke (Wayne Wang, 95), the most ethereal
  • Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 96), the most inventively kinetic
  • Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann, 01), the most audacious

F A V O U R I T E   D I R E C T O R S

  • Alfred Hitchcock - controlled genius, most notably: Rear Window (54), The Trouble with Harry (56), Psycho (60), Vertigo (58).
  • Francis Ford Coppola - raw, epic humanity: Apocalypse Now (79), The Godfather (72-90).
  • Charles Chaplin - brilliant, insightful filmmaking: The Great Dictator (40), Limelight (35), City Lights (31), Modern Times (36).
  • David Lynch - hopeful examinations of human depravity: The Elephant Man (79), Blue Velvet (86).
  • Martin Scorsese - staggering examinations of human character: GoodFellas (90), Raging Bull (80), Taxi Driver (76).
  • Stanley Kubrick - state-of-the-art explorations of human nature: 2001: A Space Odyssey (68), A Clockwork Orange (71), Dr Strangelove (64).
  • Steven Spielberg - pure wonder: E.T.: The Extra-terrestrial (82), Saving Private Ryan (98), Raiders of the Lost Ark (81), The Color Purple (85).
  • Woody Allen - sharp humanity, most notably: Manhattan (79), Hannah and Her Sisters (86), Crimes and Misdemeanors (89).
  • Roman Polanski - achingly beautiful craftsmanship:Chinatown (74), Tess (80).
  • Akira Kurosawa - masterful tales of human nature: The Seven Samurai (54); Rashomon (51).
  • Ang Lee - gripping, detailed dramas: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (00); The Ice Storm (97).
  • Bob Fosse - searing humanity: Lenny (76), Cabaret (72), All that Jazz (79).
  • Frank Capra - purely wonderful: It's a Wonderful Life (46), It Happened One Night (34).
  • Billy Wilder - astute, meaningful, hilarious: Some Like it Hot (59), The Apartment (60)
  • Brian DePalma - beautifully filmed morality plays: The Untouchables (87), Blow Out (81).
  • Joel & Ethan Coen - quirky, insightful character drama: Fargo (96), Blood Simple (83).
  • Terry Gilliam - unstoppable imagination: Brazil (85), Time Bandits (81).
  • Hal Ashby - funny, personal character drama: Being There (79); Harold and Maude (71).
  • Elia Kazan - powerful human drama: On the Waterfront (54); A Streetcar Named Desire (51).
  • Milos Foreman - stunning human dramas: Amadeus (84), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (75).
  • Peter Weir - the courage to be yourself: Dead Poets Society (89), The Truman Show (98).
  • Mel Brooks - blissful comedy/satire: Blazing Saddles (74), Young Frankenstein (74).
  • Rob Reiner - irresistible classics: Stand by Me (86), This is Spinal Tap (84), The Princess Bride (87).
  • Roland Joffe - deep-themed dramas: The Mission (86), The Killing Fields (84).

To see this list in descending order, see SHADOWS TOP 100.

NB. The 1980s seems to be my favourite film decade, with 30 of my top 100 films. Perhaps it has something to do with my age during those years. Next are the 1950s (17), '70s (16), '90s (13), '60s (8), '30s (7), '40s (5), 2000s (3) and '20s (1). back to the top

Winners and losers:
W H A T   A R E   T H E   S H A D O W S   A W A R D S ?
shadows awards This started out as a joke - basically a grand name for my own top 10 lists when Shadows on the Wall was launched in 1985. I had already been reviewing films for four years for a newspaper (those year-end lists are included here along with my childhood journal lists), but when Shadows started my readers suggested I call the year-end best lists something more exciting: so the SHADOWS AWARDS were born.

They don't exist as awards per se - there's no ceremony, no statuette, not even a certificate. I've been thinking I should go back through the archive and send all the nominees and winners over the past decades something, but the thought is a little overwhelming (see the HALL OF FAME for the quantity of certificates I'd need to produce - maybe if I win the lottery).

Over the years, my biggest winners have been Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee and Toni Collette. And the most winning film is Reds (1981), with six. I have always produced my lists before Oscar nominations were announced, but there's usually an overlap, which shows that year-end buzz does filter through to me. But I'm rather proud of some of my more obscure winners.

The Shadows Reader Awards were born with the internet edition in 1995, and were actually voted on by hundreds of subscribers and website visitors. But these were suspended in 2007 due to reader apathy.

Good, bad and ugly:
E X P L A I N   Y O U R   S T A R   R A T I N G S
Readers often accuse me of being too nice about movies, but that's only because I absolutely love cinema. I believe that if you get your film onto the screen, you deserve at least one star, which is why I will never give a no-star rating.

I use the distinction that, as per Rotten Tomatoes, the dividing line between a rotten and fresh film is between 2.5 and 3 out of 5. As for the "must see" designation: that can apply to any film regardless of its star rating.

My ratings:
1/5 F  unbearable
1.5/5 D- terrible
2/5 D  grim
2.5/5 C- weak
3/5 C  ok
3.5/5 B- good
4/5 B  excellent
4.5/5 A- extraordinary
5/5 A  essential

Note that my reviews are searchable by star rating at ROTTEN TOMATOES. back to the top

A S K   A N Y T H I N G

© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall