1. Because sharing the forthcoming Criterion edition with Jessica is what set this whole ridiculous BenFest idea in motion.
2. More than any other movie, this is the one that got me wondering what life might be like were it lived elsewhere. Not just a short-term passport to exotic locales before reality crashes back into view, but a gently engulfing experience that left restless 14-year-old Benjie believing his reality could exist somewhere so picturesque and peaceful. Had I seen Powell & Pressburger’s equally enchanting Scottish tale I Know Where I’m Going! first rather than second, I’m sure it would have had much the same effect; instead it only reinforced my mostly stationary wanderlust. The fact that I’ve continued to reside in the same county this past half-century doesn’t negate how strongly bonded I still feel to that spirit, and amid my travels abroad I’ve been fortunate to visit a handful of places that instantly, even eerily felt like a sort of homecoming, whether I spent a day or a week there: Normandy and Tours in France, Firenze in Italy, most especially Barns Green, in the Horsham district of West Sussex, an English countryside village I’m forever grateful to have visited twice with the very kind Kate Lucas. It’s the closest I’ve come to finding Ferness.MORE...
3. Except that the village of Ferness in Local Hero isn’t some soundstage Brigadoon, it’s an actual location in Scotland, a town called Pennan on the eastern Aberdeenshire coast, while the beach scenes matched to that footage were filmed on the western side at Morar and Arisaig. In other words: places I could visit. Like when Kate and I also stayed in the much-frequented village of Cong, in County Mayo, Galway, where the bulk of location shooting occurred for John Ford’s cherished Irish tale The Quiet Man. (That did have a magic all its own, but it didn’t feel like home the way Barns Green immediately did.) But when Tenny — first wife, rest in peace, please see the Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice writeup over in 1969 for more — and I were about to ... no, wait: that was CINDY, my first fiancée ... yes, I know: I should’ve been Ross Geller’s best man ... anyway, Cindy and I had plotted a two-week UK honeymoon that triangulated its way from London to Edinburgh to Cardiff and back. When I suddenly, heartlessly broke it off with her and took up with Tenny, my second fiancée but first genuine-if-soon-annulled wife, we re-rerouted that trek to this: London > day trip to Paris to board overnight train to > Vienna > down to Firenze > up to Rome > quick stop in Milan > over to Nice/Cannes > then to Paris for a proper weekend > back to London to fly home. I think it was in Rome that I proposed, although not, as I recall, in the most romantic of fashions. By the time we got to Paris, I had an inkling that maybe I’d made a mistake. Not that any inklings stopped me from behaving selfishly and cruelly, hurting and humiliating her — yup, we worked together, too, just like Sam’s mom — and ultimately throwing away a year of both of our lives.
But my point here is that by now I could’ve gone to Ferness, or some other Scottish approximation. Of course, considering how impossibly irresistible I find Scottish accents, whether from the mouth of a female (Shirley Manson, Deborah Kerr, Isla Fisher, Kelly Macdonald, Moira Shearer) or male (Ewan McGregor, James McAvoy, Alan Cumming, Sean Connery, Nicol Williamson), it’s just as well I’ve never made it there. I might come home with another bride.
4. Naturally, there are a number of famous Scots strewn throughout native son Bill Forsyth’s second of several charmers that he’s made since Gregory’s Girl in 1981. Most notable to Star Wars fans will be Denis Lawson, who played Wedge Antilles in the original trilogy (and is also real-life uncle to young Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ewan McGregor). Then there’s Peter Capaldi, lanky Danny in Local Hero, who would go on to become the 12th incarnation of Doctor Who and also share in the 1994 Oscar for best short subject, when his offbeat 23-minute comedy Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life (with Richard E. Grant as Kafka) tied for that prize with a piece about a Diana Ross fan named Trevor.
What’s stuck with me most all these years, though, is the lead performance from Peter Riegert, a really superb actor who never gets enough notice. (Depending on your age, you probably know him either as Boone in Animal House or Lt. Kellaway in The Mask.) Sent to Ferness to negotiate a land deal for a Dallas oil company simply because his last name is Scottish, Local Hero’s Mac (for MacIntyre) soon finds himself falling in love with the place. Yet Riegert conveys his transformation so subtly, so naturally, without any strained attempt at catharsis, that his longing to return at the end weighs on our hearts just as much as his.
“Nothing is more absorbing than human personalities, developed with love and humor,” Roger Ebert wrote in his glowing four-star review back in ’83. Riegert, in one of the all-too-few leading roles that came his way in those early years when he might have amounted to more than a character actor, showed here that he had — and at 72 probably still has — the talent to conjure such compelling performances. But outside of Local Hero and strong supporting parts in two unusually absorbing Joan Micklin Silver films that came nearly a decade apart — Chilly Scenes of Winter and Crossing Delancey, go look ’em up! — you’d never have known he was capable of helping carry a film. (The amusing and ultimately poignant inclusion of Burt Lancaster, master movie thespian though he was, isn’t why the memory of this pearl in the sand lingers.)
5. Then there’s that last wordless scene, and Mark Knopfler’s stately yet melancholy score shedding my inner tears for me. And that final possibly/maybe shot, when that music, so sonically rich inside the 70mm Cinedome when I was a kid, delicately lifted up my 14-year-old frown until it found a small smile again. One of the happiest ambiguous endings ever.LESS
1. Because no one made movies like the Archers, nor do I suspect anyone ever will again. Michael Powell, principally the director, and Emeric Pressburger, principally the producer, with the latter devising stories from which the duo would later develop screenplays, also deserve equal credit for concocting one of the most fantastical filmographies in cinema history, British or otherwise.
After a string of well-made spy films got them off the ground during WWII, culminating in the Oscar-winning 49th Parallel and the Oscar-nominated One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, the uniquely gifted team began to realize their fuller potential with a string of Technicolor marvels: the wartime epic The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, the sumptuously sensual psychological drama Black Narcissus, the riveting and ravishing ballet staple The Red Shoes, the otherworldly opera of The Tales of Hoffmann. All of that was simultaneously counterbalanced by a number of excellent films in rich black-and-white: the haunting, expressionistic A Canterbury Tale, the gothically gorgeous I Know Where I’m Going!, the murkier machinations of The Small Back Room. Smack in the middle of that run, which spanned much of the ’40s, is this romantically philosophical treasure about an RAF pilot (David Niven) who survives a crash landing when he isn’t meant to, falls instantly in love with the American radio operator (Kim Hunter) who talks him through his (supposed) final minutes (and really our first in the film), and then the hunt and trial that ensues when the powers-that-be in the Afterlife try to reclaim his soul. It’s my favorite of the P&P bunch. Sheer perfection.
2. And I do mean perfect from the moment the opening credits end right through to final judgment. That cosmic lead-in, shifting from tranquil to frantic as the visuals glide from the depths of silent space to to the sudden blast where we find Niven’s Peter Carter about to bail out on his badly damaged plane using a parachute shot through with holes — it just sucks me in every time. How interesting that two certifiable classics on the subject of life and death, this and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, each beginning with similar universal narrations, opened in general release on opposite sides of the Atlantic within days of each other.
3. Not only is the love story between Niven (that poshest of posh actors who nevertheless could still pull off a rough-and-tumble role) and sweet, cherubic-faced Hunter the focal point, but as usual there are plenty of faces I love seeing from the Archers’s company of regulars: the warmly authoritative Roger Livesey, the more oddly expressive Marius Goring, the strangely beautiful Kathleen Byron, here so stern as a head angel before turning so menacing as Sister Ruth in Black Narcissus a year later. Add to that a very young Richard Attenborough decades before he’d become an acclaimed director himself (and another decade beyond that before he would play the reckless visionary who concocts Jurassic Park), plus the stately Raymond Massey as a Revolutionary War figure who has never forgiven the British, enlisted as prosecutor at Peter’s celestial trial. Excellence across the board.
4. I’m not typically keen on movies involving quite-dead spooks resolving their real-world problems. Beetlejuice is an exception to just about any rule, and Meet Joe Black (a 1998 redo of 1934’s Death Takes a Holiday) hooked me despite my misgivings, but Spielberg’s Always is kind of a never and you can keep that fucking Ghost crap and its goddamn best picture nomination. However, I’m conversely a sucker for speculative what-happens-when-we-die fantasies. For starters, they’re generally comedies, be it Defending Your Life (click over to Philman’s Jewish Theatre for more on that one) or either version of Heaven Can Wait, which are entirely different stories (the 1943 film starring Don Ameche is yet another Ernst Lubitsch gem, while the 1978 Warren Beatty/Buck Henry one is really a remake of another Afterlife-slip-up flick, Here Comes Mr. Jordan). As with Wim Wenders’ tremendously moving Wings of Desire, what I love most about A Matter of Life and Death — known stateside as Stairway to Heaven two decades before there was a thing called Led Zeppelin — is how Heaven (if that’s what it is) appears in black-and-white, but Earth, for all its hopelessly corrupted spirit, is in color. For some reason that polarity alone fills me with irrational hope for mankind.
5. Lastly but most importantly: This gem shines here because even though Jessica and I have yet to finish it — we fell asleep soon after starting it very late one night during our madly romantic first summer together in 2015, and a whole lot of incredible living and scores more movies have gotten in the way since then — this is still one of those inexplicable items that means everything to us the same way Fight Club does. That movie was the first one we ever sat together and sipped beers over, while it played on an inflatable screen in a makeshift parking-lot drive-in where no cars were allowed, because Los Angeles. This, however, was the first movie we ever fell asleep to. (Hey, babe, how ’bout we run it again?)LESS
1. Because Peter Sellers should’ve won the Oscar. No, not because he died three months after it was handed out in April 1980, but because his performance as the simpleton-mistaken-for-genius Chance the Gardener (aka Chauncey Gardiner) is far and away the finest work of that year and pretty much any other that doesn’t involve Jake LaMotta or Daniel Day-Lewis. I appreciate why best actor went to Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer, a worthy winner from a film that best represents the divorce zeitgeist at the end of the ’70s. But his impassioned work doesn’t hold a wick let alone a candle to Sellers’s quietly (and hilariously) astonishing feat. Former New York Times columnist but back then Time magazine film critic Frank Rich, who considered Being There “a spectacular balancing act ... a single, scorchingly witty joke floating miraculously through midair,” rightly marveled at the “schismatic personality that Peter had to convey with strenuous vocal and gestural technique ... A lesser actor would have made the character's mental dysfunction flamboyant and drastic ... [His] intelligence was always deeper, his onscreen confidence greater, his technique much more finely honed.”
Ironically, Sellers lost the race for top Academy honors while playing precisely the sort of role Hoffman would also perfect in Rain Man (1988), then coast untouchable to Oscar gold a second time. Thanks to genre separation Sellers at least won the Golden Globe for actor in a comedy or musical (Dustin got the drama trophy). But the unstable genius who by the start of the ’80s had amassed an array of unforgettably odd and funny turns, from Kubrick’s Lolita through The Pink Panther series, never got the awards that he deserved for his career-crowning achievement, here or at home. (By the time Being There was eligible for a BAFTA prize, Sellers was bested by a performance he didn’t have to face at the Oscars, albeit one in his league: John Hurt’s magnificent, heartbreaking work in David Lynch’s telling of The Elephant Man. Hurt, in turn, got beat at the Academy Awards in early ’81 by De Niro in Raging Bull.)
2. The final shot has been justly celebrated and discussed to death, but it’s the end-credits blooper reel — otherwise known as the “Rafael outtake,” when Sellers kept breaking character and cracking up over lines like “now get this, honky” and “go tell that asshole” — that still really slays me, enabling me to let out bellylaughs I sometimes stifle during the rest of the running time. Sellers hated that director Hal Ashby included it; he felt it undermined Chance’s mystique and had much to do with why he didn’t win the Oscar. I love that the Rafael outtake is there, to leave us laughing as much as thinking, but I’m not so sure he was wrong on either point.
3. Everything Hal Ashby made in the ’70s is must-see material, from Paddy Chayefsky’s black comedy The Landord at the start of the decade to Being There’s arrival in the final weeks of ’79, with one sly effort after another in between: the odd-couple tenderness of Harold and Maude, the foul-mouthed bleakness of The Last Detail, the scathing insight of Shampoo, the folksy glow of the Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory, the lost innocence and hard realizations of the Vietnam drama Coming Home, which earned him a 1978 best director Oscar nomination. Being There should have snagged him his second in a row, perhaps if Édouard Molinaro hadn’t swiped a spot with his drag-queen comedy La Cage aux Folles, the source for Mike Nichols’ later Americanization (really a Miami-Beach-ization) The Bird Cage. Instead, Ashby’s sole Academy Award came for editing Norman Jewison’s 1967 best picture winner In the Heat of the Night prior to breaking out as a director. His brilliance waned in the decade that followed his heyday, leaving him akin to a hired gun for the Rolling Stones’ concert flick Let’s Spend the Night Together in 1983, and his craftsmanship and ingenuity never again spiked to previous highs by the time of his last film, the 1986 neo-noir 8 Million Ways to Die. After years of drug abuse, pancreatic cancer took him days before 1988 ended, at 59. Can’t help but wonder what more he might have made had there been time enough for a comeback.
4. There are days, many of them as I get older, when I wish I lived such a carefree existence as Chauncey Gardiner’s, unmolested by knowledge, trusting of television, plenty happy to merely stop and smell (and tend to) the roses. Reminds me of my favorite line in Bull Durham: “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”
5. Finally, and this is admittedly somewhat off-topic: Back in October ’96, when I was still an amateur page designer moonlighting as a cub music reporter at the Orange County Register, busting my hump on anything and everything they’d toss my way — be it reviewing the Village People on Halloween night at the spot in Laguna Beach where they do Pageant of the Masters or covering the arrival of not-so-seminal ’90s bands like Filter and Seven Mary Three — my enduring love of Being There led me to buy the same-named sophomore double-album from a group now crucially important to me that I had only really read about at that point: Wilco. I remember Toby Hill (I think) playing some Uncle Tupelo one day when we weren’t on deadline, and somewhere (probably KCRW) I had heard “Casino Queen” and “Box Full of Letters,” or Tower Records in Brea or Tustin or Irvine (oh to have all three back again!) might’ve played Wilco’s debut A.M. once or twice while I was browsing. Whatever the reason, naming your album Being There and slapping that title on a cover that showed nothing but a hand curled into a chord on a fretboard was all I needed to plunk down any amount of money and attention. The Coach House gig Toby and I saw soon after, the first of dozens more worth treasuring from Jeff Tweedy & Co., solidified within two songs that I’d made a wise choice. I’ve been grateful to, and for, Being There ever since.LESS
1. Because there had to be at least one from my all-time favorite director. Properly praised masterpieces like Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, with its six-minute uninterrupted single-take opening, are just too obvious, and anyway, those two would only wind up splitting hairs to determine who gets the bottom spot on my personal Top 3, with this much-less-known BenFest choice narrowly edging out the funhouse-noir spectacle that is The Lady from Shanghai for the throne;MORE...
2. Except I scarcely know how to describe or explain this picture, so instead I’m turning the mic over to Peter Bogdanovich, noteworthy director in his own right (try The Last Picture Show, Mask, Noises Off and The Cat’s Meow as a one-per-decade sampler) who knew Welles well, especially during the lengthy editing and distribution-deal shopping that explains the fractured date-stamp above: “F for Fake is like no other film ever made, it’s a kind of essay, I suppose you could say ... it’s not really a documentary, but it’s a kind of a documentary essay ... it’s as though you said to Orson Welles: ‘What do you have to say about the subject of fakery, art forgery, charlatanism, magicianship, the idea of authorship, and experts?’”;
3. Yet, though I find the central real-life characters terribly fascinating — there’s notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory, a delightfully flamboyant Hungarian transplant living a not-so-private life in Ibiza, and then there’s oh-so-serious liar Clifford Irving, who after writing a biography of de Hory (ironically entitled Fake!) quickly tore a page out of the master cheat’s playbook and penned an infamously fake biography of Howard Hughes (for more on that backstory, see Lasse Hallstrom’s 2006 dramatization The Hoax with Richard Gere and Marcia Gay Harden) — it’s Welles who makes their entanglement so mesmerizing, as Bogdanovich explains: “The first hour or so it really concentrates on this amazing series of events that led from de Hory to Irving to Hughes, to everybody being a fake, to Orson having been called a fake himself in his career, and a charlatan ... and [then] it veers into yet another form ... it goes into a whole complicated situation about Picasso ... 22 allegedly missing Picasso drawings, and how they connect with Oja Kodar, who was supposedly Picasso’s [and later Welles’s] mistress ... and that’s rather a funny sequence too that’s very playful and mischievous and very ... Wellesian, how it resolves itself”;
4. But I’ve also chosen this strange jumble of a film because it presents the larger-than-everything form of Orson Welles I first encountered, long before I saw Citizen Kane, via constantly repeated Paul Masson ads (“we will sell no wine ... before its time”) as well as an oft-aired “documentary” about Nostradamus called The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (1981), which scared the shit out of me but was later proven to be rubbish based on faulty readings of the seer’s quatrains, and here in F for Fake there’s a whiplash 88 minutes of Welles at his peak in that talk-to-the-viewer mode, twisting together facts and rumours and knotty logic in a manner I’ve only recently realized had a profound effect on my writing, for as Bogdanovich (yeah, him again) says: “If you get on the film’s wavelength, and listen to what he’s saying and watch what he’s doing, it’s riveting ... and it takes you along through the rhythm of the cutting and rhythm of Orson’s personality ... [but] if you fight it, and you expect it to be a linear kind of thing, then you’re not going to enjoy it ... it’s sort of like visual music ... it takes you somewhere, and if you’re a willing participant, it may take you someplace great”;
5. Which more or less sums up the aims I strive (yet surely fail) to achieve with my own creative outlets. Unsurprisingly, I keep finding new things worth noticing every time I watch F for Fake, which is well past a dozen times now. And then there’s the pet monkey moment, when a random one is perched on Irving’s shoulder while he’s interviewed. So pricelessly weird.LESS
1. Because there had to be a film from my other all-time favorite director, and it sure as hell wasn’t gonna be M*A*S*H. Also in the running were enough gems to fill an entire Altman wing at BenFest: the one-of-a-kind western McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), the equally unique 3 Women (1977), the gambling-addiction snapshot California Split (1974), the unsettling psychosis of Images (1972), under-seen stage-to-screen productions like Secret Honor (1984) and Fool for Love (1985), his outstanding 1990 van Gogh biopic Vincent & Theo (his real comeback, two years before The Player), all of Tanner ’88, and oh if only there were more of Short Cuts (1993) and Gosford Park (2001). But this is the one I fall asleep to most. It’s the one I’d take to a desert island curiously equipped with a working television and disc drive rigged to jam as soon as I insert the first shiny title.MORE...
2. Casting my favorite ’70s star Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe is an inspired stroke of genius. Gould, these days known more for playing Ross & Rachel’s dad on Friends and for his small but standout roles in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 and counting, was once upon a time just about the most sought-after acting property around. But by the time he made this zonked-out mystery, bearing only a passing resemblance to Raymond Chandler’s convoluted detective novel (the longest he ever wrote), he had become an industry enfant terrible in dire need of a rehabilitating role. This didn’t exactly do the trick, but it’s nonetheless his most intriguing, against-type performance, imbued with both his smirking bemusement and fire-eyed fury. Plus there’s his vengeful finish, devised by Leigh Brackett (whose credits span from The Big Sleep to The Empire Strikes Back), which Altman insisted could not be changed or he woudn’t do the movie. And there’s an improvised (so much Altman stuff was improvised) blackface moment so befitting the scene and times that I don’t hate either star or director for it.
3. Altman instructed Gould to play this character, so closely associated with Humphrey Bogart, as if he were Rip Van Marlowe awakening after 20 or 30 years and discovering a Los Angeles that no longer matches his rumpled demeanor, his outdated car, or his hard-to-discern code of ethics. Ironically, it’s now this thoroughly stoned, post-hippie L.A. of ’73 that appears as antiquated (if also wistfully mourned) as the Brown Derby days of Hollywood’s golden era must have seemed when The Long Goodbye was brand new. It’s also an L.A. littered with famous faces who have either become ghosts (the mighty Sterling Hayden, so booming as alcoholic, Hemingway-esque novelist Roger Wade, impish Henry Gibson as his greedy quack psychiatrist, former MLB pitcher Jim Bouton as the shady Terry Lennox) or then-new talents who went on to far greater heights — like director Mark Rydell, here in a rare and viciously executed acting turn as gangster boss Marty Augustine years before he would make The Rose and On Golden Pond. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a certain uncredited but instantly recognizable muscle man, back when his agent billed him as Arnold Strong.
4. John (then Johnny) Williams’s theme tune, composed two years before he’d become a household name via the two-note undercurrent he lent to Jaws, is a malleable treat stretched into a running gag that never wears out its welcome. You’ll get what I mean once the opening credits play out, or by the time another ghost — Jack Riley, just then beginning his memorable run as part of CBS’s The Bob Newhart Show — is seen trying to learn it on piano in Marlowe’s regular dive bar, complete with Johnny Mercer’s lyrics. Keep an ear pricked up for other variations, including the doorbell chime at the Wades’s house in Malibu Colony, which, incidentally, was Altman’s actual abode.
5. Finally, if also not least importantly, this flick that is already so deeply ingrained on my psyche has taken on renewed meaning in one unexpected respect. The tone-setting opening scene, from chest-stomping wakeup call to supermarket search to an inevitably disgusted exit through el porto del gato, now reminds me of the sorts of interruptions and ensuing dialogue I have on an almost-daily basis with the best pet I’ve ever been lucky enough to love, Jessica’s mom’s cat Einstein.
All That Jazz, the first seven minutes of which is my most favorite slice of cinema ever; All the President’s Men, because not understanding anything at all about it when I saw it in ’76 didn’t detract from the ambition it subconsciously planted in me to strive to become a journalist, although as a statement on the powers and stresses of a media-dominated life I would just as soon swap it for Network, Broadcast News, Wag the Dog or The Truman Show; The Apartment, Billy Wilder’s second best picture winner (following The Lost Weekend in 1945), a bittersweet romantic comedy that would only need new costumes and sets and slang to be just as fresh today; Blow-Up, because although I’m fascinated by virtually all of Antonioni’s films, this existential mystery set in swinging-’60s London was the first to unnerve me; Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s miraculously time-stretched achievement, enabling us to witness a real boy literally grow up alongside his character within a fictional, often-improvised drama, and which struck all kinds of resonant chords in me (as did another naturalistic picture years before it, Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien); Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s retro-futuristic Man vs. The System manifesto, the dream sequences of which still leave me astonished; Breaking the Waves, the most emotionally wrenched I’ve ever been at the movies without involving Schindler’s List or The Ice Storm, and the moment I fell in love with Emily Watson; The Dresser, a master-class drama about the leader (the incomparable Albert Finney) of a touring Shakespearean company during WWII and the loyal valet (Tom Courtenay at his most swishy) who tends to his crumbling sanity, both of whom leave me hanging on their every arguing word the same way Taylor & Burton do in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Excalibur, John Boorman’s retelling of the Arthurian legend, featuring the very Hamlet-like Nicol Williamson as the only screen Merlin who has ever mattered, the goddess Helen Mirren as Morgan le Fay, a creepily giggling Mordred (played by Boorman’s son Charley) and the most evocatively misty cinematography of any such saga, Lord of the Snores very much included; The Graduate, for I became Benjie because my mother was enamored with Benjamin Braddock in Mike Nichols’ ’67 sensation, although technically it was to commemorate my great-uncle Benjamin Finegold (fun fact: both myself and the Santa Ana deli mainstay Benjie’s are named after the same person); In a Lonely Place, a more believable flip-side to Sunset Boulevard courtesy of Nicholas Ray’s unadorned portrait of a failing screenwriter (Humphrey Bogart) investigated for a murder he didn’t commit, and the alluring neighbor (Gloria Grahame, a tarnished heroine of mine) who tries to steer him back to greatness; Laura, one of Otto Preminger’s masterpieces, the most compact and flawless of all films noir, elevated by Clifton Webb’s withering insults and Gene Tierney’s anguished beauty, plus Vincent Price playing against type as a Southern playboy; Lost in Translation, featuring Bill Murray’s best non-comedic performance in Sofia Coppola’s unconventional May-December sorta-romance set amid a midlife crisis in the Far East, a double dose of which became my salvation when I saw it twice in a week at the end of 2003; My Left Foot, because not long after my own wheelchair-bound grandfather died, this powerful portrait showed me a valiant example of someone similarly trapped yet defying the sentence his neurological system had handed down to him, and which I chose over David Lynch’s ethereal version of The Elephant Man as representative of my cinematic tutelage in compassion only because My Left Foot stars the greatest actor of my generation, Daniel Day-Lewis; My Man Godfrey, runner-up for funniest movie of all-time, although as screwball comedies go I’m equally fond of The Man Who Came to Dinner and everything Preston Sturges ever made; The Stunt Man, Richard Rush’s long-gestating labor of love, one of the best movies about movie-making, and the moment I got over my irrational fear of Steve Railsback, which had begun four years earlier when he played Charles Manson in the TV dramatization of Helter Skelter; Sweet Smell of Success, the most cynical, sardonic and quotable film ever, assuming we set aside Monty Python and the Holy Grail; The Third Man, as much for the shadowy cinematography and Trevor Howard’s Major Callahan (“Calloway ... I’m English, not Irish”) as for Orson Welles’s famous entrance and cuckoo-clock speech; Wings of Desire, which floored me when I saw it at the dawn of the ’90s, the first half stirring enough to make me want to believe in angels, the second half the most profound example of soulmates I’ve seen; and Wonder Boys, because most days I feel like Michael Douglas’s disheveled pothead English professor Grady Tripp, minus the celebrated debut novel (and I’d definitely wear a cuter bathrobe).