book that claims to be a collection of the “best” of something—whether it is a
listing of movies, music, art, and so forth—has to be taken with a grain of
salt. These kinds of things are entirely subjective; although in this case, TCM
(Turner Classic Movies) does have a kind of clout and expertise in the matter.
said, we have this beautifully-designed and illustrated coffee-table trade
paperback that contains not 1000, not 100, not 50... but 52 “essential must-see movies.” TCM’s spokesperson, Robert Osborne,
explains the criteria in his Foreword—“The Essentials” is a weekly Saturday
night event on the television network in which a guest host (the likes of Rob
Reiner, Sydney Pollack, Peter Bogdanovich, Drew Barrymore, and more) introduce
a picture he or she believes is an Essential. The book is a collection of some
of these Essentials, with some sidebar comments by the various hosts who
appeared on the program.
big question is... why 52? Why not an
even 50? Why not 100? Aha! It’s meant to
be a movie-each-week. Fifty-two weeks in a year, one Essential per week.
every single entry in the book is indeed an essential must-see motion picture.
No question about it. Of the 52 included, I personally own 47 of them on DVD or
Blu-ray in my home library and have of course seen the others. Author Jeremy Arnold does a superb job presenting
the reasons why a particular film matters, and it’s not easy to vary
superlatives, which are what it takes to describe these great works of
the ones you expect are there—City Lights,
It Happened One Night, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Casablanca,
Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ in the Rain, Rear Window, The Searchers, Lawrence of
Arabia, Jaws... as well as a few
that I was particularly happy to see listed (Duck Soup, King Kong, Double Indemnity, The Bicycle Thief, Seven
Samurai, Dr. Strangelove, Once Upon a
Time in the West, Annie Hall...).
enough, although after going through the book, one can’t help but think, but what about ___? Why isn’t The Godfather an Essential? 2001: A Space Odyssey? The Wizard of Oz? A Bergman? A Scorsese? A Fellini? I found
myself scratching my head in befuddlement at the lack of some truly significant
mentions. There is also nothing more recent than 1984’s This is Spinal Tap, althoughit’s
understandable that many pictures from the 70s and beyond might not be included
because TCM doesn’t have the rights to broadcast them.
so forget about what’s missing and concentrate on what’s there. Once a reader
decides to do that, then The Essentials is
an entertaining read and, in fact, a lot of fun. Arnold does manage to mention
other titles not contained in the book that may have been influenced by one
that is. The book also has some great stills, both color and black and white.
For a preliminary “bucket list” of must-see
movies, especially for younger aficionados who might want to get a jump start
on their film history class, The
Essentials is a good place to start.