This is a site for serious film buffs. It has been praised by the American film industry’s publication of reference, Variety, and has been called “a labor of love by critic Roger Ebert. The site’s author, Tim Dirks, started out in 1996 with an overview of the 100 greatest films ever made, then added another couple hundred later on. For each entry, you get a rave review and a complete story breakdown, which is presented in a reader-friendly narrative format, rather than the somewhat abstruse screenplay form.
Dirks’s approach is decidedly ethnocentric: Most of his picks are Hollywood movies. But he makes up for this with the inclusion of a list of lists: Alternative rankings of the world’s best movies which are a little more ecumenical. For instance, half of the films in Time magazine’s list, which was compiled in 2005 by critics Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel, were made outside the United States. The list of lists also comprises some special interest rankings, such as the best 50 “guy movies (Dirty Harry, The Terminator, Rocky) and “chick flicks (Thelma & Louise, The English Patient, All About Eve).
Dirks’s knowledge of movie lore and language is encyclopedic, but his tone is gossipy and enthusiastic, rather than dry and academic. In his review of Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) for instance, he casually mentions that the Tahitian beauty who entrances midshipman Roger Byam (Franchot Tone) was in fact played by a Mexican actress, Maria “Movita Castaneda, who later married Marlon Brando. The same Marlon Brando who starred in a 1962 Bounty remake and married his Hawaiian onscreen love interest, Tarita Teriipia, after divorcing Castaneda.
Mutiny on the Bounty and the 299 other “greatest films were not pulled out of a hat. Dirks acknowledges that his choices are subjective and idiosyncratic, but he points out that the movies on his list have consistently been picked by filmmakers and film critics as works of substance over the years. In his considered opinion, “they are the films which every educated person with a solid knowledge of film history would be expected to know. As such, his list deliberately favors “classics over current films, which makes sense when one considers that many box office successes have not endured while some commercial failures have withstood the test of time: think Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1940), often listed as the best movie ever made, is a case in point.
For those of us who are not connoisseurs, Dirks offers what amounts to an instant film education. His history of film ranges from the late 1800s to the present and includes a detailed timeline of major milestones such as the invention of the celluloid film strip (1889) and that of mercury lights for indoor filming (1905). There are also separate timelines for visual and special effects milestones, a history of the Academy Awards, and an overview of film genres. Action and adventures, comedies, musicals and so forth. Finally, you get a glossary of film terms (a “boom is not an explosion, but rather an extendable pole to which a microphone, light or camera can be attached) and some tips for viewing films critically (watch your chosen film once for story and then again for set design, camera angles, and the like).
Film literacy is not promoted at the expense of film trivia, however, and Dirks serves up a detailed section on the greatest film moments – best kisses, scariest scenes, most memorable Alfred Hitchcock cameo appearances and much more. He also includes a list of the best death scenes, from Lilian Gish getting beaten to death in Broken Blossoms (1919) to the endless and unnecessarily graphic crucifixion in The Passion Of The Christ (2004). But I bet you didn’t know that there was a Web site devoted exclusively to movie deaths, did you?
Linda Blair (from The Exorcist) is stabbed and slashed to death by Georgina Spelvin, who is later strangled when her scarf gets caught in a fan in A Woman Obsessed (1989). Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie Goldfinger) is stabbed in the neck with a metal comb by Nastassja Kinski in To The Devil, a Daughter (1976). Nastassja Kinski is hanged (offscreen) in Roman Polanski’s Tess (1979).
Gene Hackman is machine-gunned by Lee Marvin in Prime Cut (1972) and loses a shoot-out with Sharon Stone in The Quick And The Dead (1995). Lee Marvin and Ronald Reagan simultaneously shoot each other in The Killers (1964). Sharon Stone is executed by lethal injection in Last Dance (1996) and is killed and dismembered, offscreen, in Picking Up The Pieces (2000) by Woody Allen, of all people.
If you want to know who died in what way in which movie, visit Cinemorgue. The information (which often reveals the identity of the killer) is likely to ruin a whole lot of movies for you, and the casualty list is heavily slanted toward actresses, but the site is strangely compelling.
Mohamed Ragheb is a freelancer writer and filmmaker. You may contact him at [email protected]