More of the best
Iwrote a column about a year ago filled with lists of the “best” of this or that, as in the best NFL running backs, the best World War II novels and so on.
It received a huge response; perhaps because we all have lists like that floating around in our heads and like comparing ours to others.
As such, more of the “best” things: ● Best Alfred Hitchcock movies. When I was in college, I signed up for a course on Hitchcock just so I could catch free (sort of) screenings of his films. Writing the papers and taking the exams was a small price to pay for that pleasure. And these are my favorites: (1) Rear Window (1954, as close to perfect as a movie gets); (2) Vertigo (1958, maybe not, per the folks at Sight & Sound, the greatest ever, but supremely unsettling and evocative); (3) North By Northwest (1959); (4) Psycho (1960); (5) The Birds (1963, the scene where Tippi Hedren’s character is smoking a cigarette on the school playground and the birds began to slowly gather behind her, which we see but she doesn’t, might be Hitchcock’s most brilliant); (6)
Notorious (1946, if there’s such a thing as an even slightly sympathetic Nazi, it’s Claude Rains); (7) Shadow of a Doubt (1943); (8) To Catch a Thief (1955, the French Riviera, Cary Grant, Grace Kelley and a witty script); (9) Frenzy (1972); and (10) Strangers on a Train (1951).
More: Suspicion (1941); Dial M for Murder (1954); Rebecca (1940); The 39 Steps (1935) and the unjustly maligned Spellbound (1945).
● Best “obscure” Beatles songs: Actually, there are no “obscure” Beatles songs, but these are the best that you might not have heard a zillion times: (1) “And Your Bird Can Sing” (best track on perhaps their best album, Revolver); (2) “You’re Going to Lose that Girl”; (3) “Tell Me Why”; (4) “Two of Us”; (5) “Sexy Sadie”; (6) “Rain” (b-side of “Paperback Writer”); (7) “Hey Bulldog” (overlooked because it’s on the otherwise trivial Yellow Submarine); (8) “Cry Baby Cry” (more White Album); (9) “I Call Your Name”; and (10) “Baby You’re a Rich Man” (b-side of “All You Need Is Love”).
Others (hard to resist): “I’m a Loser”; “I’ve Just Seen a Face”; “Think for Yourself”; “When I Get Home”; and “Old Brown Shoe” (b-side of “The Ballad of John and Yoko”).
● Best alien invasion/encounter movies: Human beings are appropriately fascinated with “what’s out there” and these are the best Hollywood depictions of extraterrestrial life: (1) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, even if it’s now 2017 and nothing like it has happened yet); (2) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977); (3) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, although the 1978 remake is equally claustrophobic); (4) The War of the Worlds (1953; Steven Spielberg’s version doesn’t have alien spaceships that make that cool phaser sound); (5)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, a bit preachy but…); (6) The Thing From Another World (1951, James Arness as the carrot man); (7) Aliens (1986, better than Alien); (8) Signs (2002, back when M. Night Shyamalan films were events); (9) Arrival (2016, a sort of tone poem Close Encounters); and (10) The Andromeda Strain (1971, because microbes can be aliens too).
Also: Predator (1987, the future governors of California and Minnesota take on the ugliest alien of them all); Steve McQueen playing a teenager in The Blob (1958); John Carpenter’s underrated Starman (1984), and of course Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). Significant omission: Independence Day (1996; no, presidents are not allowed to fly fighter jets into battle against aliens).
● Best novels about American politics: In my intro American politics course, I sometimes randomly assign each student a novel dealing with some aspect of American politics or history and have them write a review/ critique of it, sort of as an additional inducement to join the reading life. Here are some of those that I might include next time around: (1) Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah (1956, urban machine politics, precinct by precinct); (2) Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (1946, the populist demagogue and the corrupting effects of power); (3) Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent (1959); (4) Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey’s Seven Days in May (1962, a treatise on civil-military relations disguised as a thriller); (5) Gore Vidal’s Burr (1973; how did such a vile creature produce such good historical fiction? See also his Lincoln); (6) Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (2004, if you want fascism comes to America, this is much better than Sinclair Lewis’ clunky It Couldn’t Happen Here); (7) Thomas Mallon’s Dewey Defeats Truman (1997, a whimsical love story set against the backdrop of the greatest upset in American politics, at least until last November); 8) Charles McCarry’s Shelley’s Heart (1995, a thriller about a stolen American presidential election … hmmm); (9) Christopher Buckley’s Supreme Courtship (2008, actually just about anything by Christopher Buckley); and (10) Joe Klein’s Primary Colors (1996; I’m always curious to see how long it takes for them to figure out who Jack Stanton really is).
Omission: Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate (1959), only because it was on last year’s list of best Cold War thrillers.