(as you'll see I had a little trouble keeping it to one for some years...but on the other hand, for some other years, I couldn't think of any. So maybe it balances out.)
1971: Either Diamonds Are Forever or Fiddler on the Roof.
I've said this before: The recent Casino Royale is a good movie but it's just not, to me, a good James Bond movie. As for Fiddler, well, how far can you go wrong?
1972 : The Poseidon Adventure, with the original Sleuth a very close runner-up.
Never seen the remake of Poseidon and probably never will, except maybe on mute on cable to watch the lovely Emmy Rossum. Have seen the remake of Sleuth, but although it's well-acted, it ultimately doesn't work.
1973 : Jesus Christ Superstar, and Godspell too.
It's hard to think of one without the other. They're both enduring classics, at least for me, and that's really all we're concerned with here.
1974: Young Frankenstein!
One of these days I have to write up a longer blog post on my theory that Mel Brooks stopped hitting the mark as much as he did when he stopped working with Gene Wilder. All Brooks' best films--this, Blazing Saddles (also 1974) and The Producers had Wilder involved as star or, in the case of Young Frankenstein, star and co-writer.
1975. Holy crap was this a good year for films. In the same 12-month period, we've got Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Jaws. If I have to pick one, then Jaws, but only because I'm saving Python for Life of Brian in '79.
Plus, if we're just talking about movies that aren't necessarily great but which had an effect on my life, there's a little something called The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Give yourself over to absolute pleasure...
By contrast, this was a really crappy year for movies.
1977 : Star Wars.
Some of the most fun I'm having right now is that my six-year-old nephew has just gotten into the Star Wars movies.
Brilliant to see it happening again through his eyes; very "the torch has been passed..."
Y'know, when you (or at least I) watch that movie as an adult, you realize just how much Alec Guinness saved Lucas' ass. Who could have better said lines like:
"Mos Eisley spaceport: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy."
"That's no moon. That's a space station."
1978: First of all, Halloween. For more on why, see 1996, below.
And...I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm gonna say...The Wiz. Sure there are probably "better" movies...and honestly, there's no "probably" about it. I guess you could call this a guilty pleasure. I'll concede its flaws (many of them start with Diana and end with Ross), but whenever I watch it, I just seem to end up having a great time.
1979: Another good year. Life of Brian and Moonraker and The Warriors.
Brian is arguably Python's best film. Moonraker was my first-ever Bond film. And I think a reason I've never been that keen to go to New York is...I know it's never going to have the flair and energy that it did in The Warriors.
1980: Another tie between The Empire Strikes Back and Caddyshack. (The Empire Strikes Shack?)
About Strikes Back, one word: Yoda. And everybody knows Caddyshack is a classic from Harold Ramis, the writer/actor/director who in the '80s was kind of a Yoda of comedy. He also had a hand in Groundhog Day, Animal House, Back to School, Meatballs and...
1981: Stripes/Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Ramis approaching his peak, and Spielberg absolutely at his. Stripes, like a lot of Ramis' movies, is one of those that's just "in my matrix," as I like to say.
And Raiders...well, I've written before about how I've found myself with next to no urge to see the new Indiana Jones flick. I think part of it's because I know it'll never be 1981 again.
1982: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
One of the two greatest films of the Classic Eighties Teen Movie Era (the other being Revenge of the Nerds). Great soundtrack, too, and well, two words: Phoebe Cates.
(Two more: Ray Walston.)
("What are you people, on dope?")
Cameron Crowe writes some of the best scripts for actors, he's still the only one who's ever managed to make Tom Cruise seem like a normal human being.
1983: The Outsiders
Melodrama? Absolutely. But when you're a "sensitive" 11-year-old boy, as I was when this was first released, it's total tragedy.
The special edition DVD has some great features but one of the most pretentious director's commentaries you'll ever hear. And most if not all of the restored scenes should have been left on the cutting-room floor.
But, that DVD is the only place to see Coppola's epic screen pictures in wide screen since its theatrical release (& this is a movie that really suffers in pan-and-scan).
For these reasons:
Yeah, Ramis again (you see what I mean about him being Yoda-like?).
This soundtrack was probably one of the most influential on my musical taste (along with the John Hughes films).
Also my first look at Sigourney Weaver, one of the great woman movie stars of my lifetime.
This is another movie that's "in my matrix," quotes constantly turning up in my thoughts and conversation. Forget about the sequel (if you possibly, possibly can).
1985: I almost want to say Legend, but I'd have to qualify it too much. It must be the special edition DVD with Jerry Goldsmith's score--and even then, I'd need to FF through every time Tom Cruise is on the screen...Actually, the perfect version of this movie would be as an almost all-silent film, with only Goldsmith's score and narration by Tim Curry as The Lord of Darkness...
But I'll say Real Genius. It's bliss.
1986: Aliens. Aliens. Aliens. Aliens. And: Aliens
This is one of those movies that any time it's on cable, I have to stop and watch at least a bit. I've already mentioned Weaver for Ghostbusters, but Carrie Henn (Newt)!
If they gave Oscars for best performance by an actor who never acted again...
1987 : Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Hey--if it's good enough for Roger Ebert to put in his Great Movies series, it's good enough for me.
Also some of my favorite closing lines in films of the past 20-25 years, for reasons I don't think I've ever been able to satisfactorily explain.
Neal: Honey, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine.
Susan Page: Hello, Mr. Griffith.
Del: Hello, Mrs. Page.
1988: Bull Durham, followed very, very closely--in fact so closely as makes no odds--by The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
As I've remarked not long ago, I quote Bull Durham a whole hell of a lot for someone who's never known much about baseball. But then again, maybe all you need to know is
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes, it rains.
And The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is 10 out of 10 Gilliam.
1989: (Ben looks left. Looks right. Then :) Weekend at Bernie's.
Shut up. I have no defense for this, but both of the Weekend At Bernie's movies are permanently lodged on my guilty-pleasure list.
Ok, maybe I have one, flimsy defense for this, which is that Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman did make a good team.
1990: Another piss-poor year. I got nothing.
1991: The Fisher King
Magical. A great script interpreted by a director who was great enough to know he didn't need to "fix" it. The performance for which Robin Williams should have won his Oscar.
1992: Again, I'm stumped.
1993: Much Ado About Nothing
It's just incredibly charming.
You always end with a jade's trick: I know you of old.
1994: Wes Craven's New Nightmare.
In a weird way, all the bad Nightmare sequels are worth it because they make this one possible...but you don't need to have seen more than the first one (luckily) for this to work. It's also one of the only movies--perhaps the only--in which Freddy Krueger is actually scary.
1995: The Usual Suspects!
What sets this movie apart from others with a twist in the tail is the way the tale is told. Even when you know the surprise, this thing is a joy.
1996: I'm gonna go with Scream.
This movie is like Halloween in that it suffers for the sins of the films that followed, especially its own inferior sequels (in particular Season of the Witch & Scream 3). But if you can look at it on its own, this is a genuinely great film.
1997: This is hard to narrow down (Boogie Nights, As Good As It Gets...even Romy & Michelle were candidates) but I'm gonna say The Ice Storm.
This film didn't do well on its initial release, but over the years has grown in stature.
It's terribly, terribly sad, yet there is lightness to it.
Along with some lovely performances by a cast that includes Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver (again!) and Tobey Maguire, who gets this line:
It's like someone's always leaving the door open to the next world and if you aren't paying attention, you could just walk through it and then...
1998: The Truman Show
I wonder if Jim Carrey knew he'd be living this movie for most of his adult life.
Either that or Gods & Monsters.
(Tonight we're gonna party like it's) 1999: In retrospect, this was one of the best years for movies in recent memory. The Iron Giant tops my list, but I also gotta give props to The Limey, Notting Hill, Jesus' Son, the South Park movie and Dogma.
2000: Bring It On.
So much better than any cheerleader movie had a right to be. Followed neck-and-neck by Billy Elliot, which is an honest tearjerker but doesn't have Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku and Gabrielle Union in cheerleader uniforms.
A boy's gotta have his standards.
2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
I'm sure there were other movies released that year...I just can't remember seeing any...well, apart from Ocean's 11, of course. 12 kept me from seeing 13, but I hear it was better.
And I mustn't forget Monster's Ball.
2002: Not such a great year for movies, this. I'm left with Ice Age.
Well, it was either that or Attack of the Clones. Or Men in Black II, a film I've inexplicably come to like more than the original.
2003: Two words: Finding and Nemo.
The biggest hit of that summer, the top-grossing animated film and the fastest selling DVD at that time -- I don't know if either record has been broken since. But it deserved every dollar.
And I also want to mention another film which, oddly, revolves around a body of water: Mystic River, directed by Clint Eastwood.
My standard line on Sideways is that it could've been made for me. I'm a frustrated writer who'd had a crush on Virginia Madsen since 1985. I also want to mention Kinsey as a strong second.
2005: I wouldn't have said this at the time, but right now my favorite movie that was released that year is probably...Saw II.
I only got hooked on the Saw movies this past year...but man, I'm hooked deep. I love the deranged, diabolical traps, especially the larger ones the nature of which we don't learn until the final moments. I can't wait to see if V keeps up the streak.
2006: Shut Up & Sing, with Pan's Labyrinth & Venus tied for second, and The Science of Sleep in third.
Interestingly...at least to me...all my choices for 2006 have a common theme of being about women, their voices (heard or silenced) and the roles they play (real and illusory) in men's lives.
2007: I probably liked Ratatouille best of what was, to me, not a great year for movies. But for the love of god, see Gone Baby Gone. And I liked Order of the Phoenix better than any of the other Potter movies to date.
2008 (so far): I want to assert for Stop-Loss, because I'd really like more people to see it now that it's on DVD. And I find myself with surprisingly warm memories of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a film I enjoyed but would have thought would have flown out of my mind by now.
But if there can be only one, then there can be only one choice.