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The Magnificent Twenty-Two
A Never-Before-Published Phone Survey of
22 Movie Critics, from the Summer of '93

By Brian Abrams

Ah, yes, the number of constructive summer activities an outgoing parent can push on their 14-year old to keep him off the streets: summer camp, little league, reading lists, mowing lawns, youth groups, coal mining, et cetera, et cetera. As for my sunny days as a little pisher, my time was mostly squandered away on a half crescent moon-shaped ruby red couch. That's where, during the summers of 1993 and '94, the monthly long distance bill skyrocketed, and movies were watched one after another after another...after another. Critics all over the nation are to blame for this, as is my inherent affection for film. (Lest we forget my spoiling mother for out sourcing the yard work, too.)

I just wanted to broaden my movie-watching experience. That's all. As much as I loved (and still do) those rampant Meatballs marathons on the USA Network, there was a need for movies with just a little bit more depth. A few mentors of mine at the time (namely my father and a drunken neighbour) recommended some of the iconic pictures from the much-lauded Golden Age (e.g., Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance) and a sampling from the Studio Era (e.g., Arsenic and Old Lace, Casablanca, all the Marx Bros. films). I went through those. And still, I sought even more landmark films, but I needed further direction.

In July 1993, I took on a project that would keep me out of little league and plunge me into some key titles of American and international cinema, past and present (consequently, this project helped me to hone my stalking skills--later applied to future ex-girlfriends). After researching the names and numbers of most every major film critic in the nation--magazine, newspaper, TV, whatever--it was time to pick up the phone. I wasn't conscious of any of the social stigmas that clung onto being a movie critic (arrogance, know-it-alls, etc.), but everyone I called contributed--and with no issues whatsoever.

A survey of 21 film critics racked up the AT&T minutes. These movie mavens submitted their all time personal favourites in three categories: Drama, Comedy, and Action/Adventure. I also asked them to name their Favourite Actor and Actress. The selections for the ruby red couch theater grossly inflated from 1970s and 1940s-era essentials to foreign classics, silent films, and even some wild obscurities, all of which are catalogued herein.

Thirteen months later, the obsession continued. This time, 16 of last year's 21 critics contributed, plus a new one (Tim Gray, Variety). (The others, I want to believe, were just busy that week.) The wild card query this go-round was their choice for director, backed by three of his/her works. (As if my plate wasn't already overflowing with unwatched titles from last year's inquisition--whatever. I guess a real movie junkie doesn't know when to call it quits.)

Almost a decade later I ran into one of the contributors, Philip Wuntch (Dallas Morning News). He remembered my phone call and, more importantly, his selections from that very day (selections, I might add, he still stands by). As for the others, who's to say whether or not they still advocate their choices from a decade ago? Anyway, that's all beside the point. The ruby red couch may be long gone, but the survey survived: it's a reference sheet, now in public domain, that can be used forever to keep more little pishers off the streets--and, perhaps more importantly, out of little league.

[Note: The publication listed after each contributor's name is the publication they wrote for at the time of the survey. In some cases, this has changed. Updated info on each critic is provided--when available--through the links on their names.]

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Todd Anthony (New Times-Miami)

Drama - Taxi Driver (1976)
Comedy - Being There (1979) / Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1978, Brazilian)
Action - Goldfinger (1964, British)
Actor - Gerard Depardieu
Actress - Sonia Braga
Director - Robert Altman

  • M*A*S*H (1970)
  • McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
  • The Player (1992)

    _________________________________________

    William Arnold (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

    Drama - The Godfather (1972) / The Godfather, Part II (1974) / The Godfather, Part III (1990)
    Comedy - The Thin Man (1934)
    Action - The Magnificent Seven (1960)
    Actor - Edward G. Robinson
    Actress - Deborah Carr

    _________________________________________

    Harper Barnes (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

    Drama - Citizen Kane (1941)
    Comedy - His Girl Friday (1940)
    Action - The Seven Samurai (1954, Japanese)
    Actor - Marlon Brando
    Actress - Vanessa Redgrave
    Director - John Huston

  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
  • Prizziís Honor (1985)

    _________________________________________

    Ty Burr (Entertainment Weekly)

    Drama - Written on the Wind (1957)
    Comedy - Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974, French)
    Action - Aliens (1986)
    Actor - Cary Grant
    Actress - Geena Davis
    Director - Michael Powell

  • I Know Where Iím Going (1945, British)
  • Black Narcissus (1947, British)
  • Peeping Tom (1960)

    _________________________________________

    Todd Camp (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

    Drama - Edward Scissorhands (1990)
    Comedy - Weird Science (1985)
    Action - Jaws (1975)
    Actor - Bill Paxton
    Actress - Meryl Streep
    Director - Tim Burton

  • Beetle Juice (1988)
  • Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, not credited as dir.)

    _________________________________________

    Jay Carr (Boston Globe)

    Drama - Rules of the Game (1939, French) / The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) / The Godfather (1972) / The Godfather, Part II (1974)
    Comedy - The Gold Rush (1925) / A Night at the Opera (1935) / Blue Velvet (1986)
    Action - Strike (1924, Russian) / The General (1927) / Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
    Actor - James Cagney
    Actress - Louise Brooks / Lillian Gish

    _________________________________________

    Mike Clark (USA Today)

    Drama - The Searchers (1956)
    Comedy - Itís a Gift (1934)
    Action - The Seven Samurai (1954-Japanese)
    Actor - John Wayne
    Actress - Audrey Hepburn
    Director - John Ford

  • How Green Was My Valley (1941)
  • The Quiet Man (1952)
  • The Searchers (1956)

    _________________________________________

    Richard Corliss (Time)

    Drama - Citizen Kane (1941)
    Comedy - Some Like It Hot (1959)
    Action - The Seven Samurai (1954-Japanese)
    Actor - James Cagney
    Actress - Greta Garbo
    Director - Ingmar Bergman

  • The Seventh Seal (1957-Swedish)
  • The Magician (1958-Swedish)
  • Persona (1966-Swedish)

    _________________________________________

    Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times)

    Drama - Citizen Kane (1941)
    Comedy - The Producers (1967)
    Action - Notorious (1946)
    Actor - Robert Mitchum
    Actress - Ingrid Bergman

    _________________________________________

    Owen Gleibermann (Entertainment Weekly)

    Drama - Nashville (1975)
    Comedy - Manhattan (1979)
    Action - The French Connection (1971)
    Actor - James Stewart
    Actress - Debra Winger

    _________________________________________

    Tim Gray (Variety)

    Director - Preston Sturges

  • The Lady Eve (1941)
  • Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)
  • The Miracle of Morganís Creek (1944)

    _________________________________________

    Hal Hinson (Washington Post)

    Drama - On the Waterfront (1954)
    Comedy - The Lady Eve (1941)
    Action - Jaws (1975)
    Actor - Bugs Bunny
    Actress - Diane Keaton
    Director - Preston Sturges

  • The Lady Eve (1941)
  • Sullivanís Travels (1941)
  • Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)

    _________________________________________

    Leonard Maltin (Entertainment Tonight)

    Drama - Casablanca (1942)
    Comedy - His Girl Friday (1940)
    Action - The Road Warrior (1981-Australian) / The Terminator (1984)
    Actor - Robert DeNiro
    Actress - Meryl Streep

    _________________________________________

    Jeff Millar (Houston Chronicle)

    Drama - On the Beach (1959)
    Comedy - Dr. Strangelove (1964)
    Action - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
    Actor - Paul Newman
    Actress - Katharine Hepburn
    Director - Stanley Kubrick

  • Dr. Strangelove (1964)

    _________________________________________

    Howie Movshovitz (Denver Post)

    Drama - Citizen Kane (1941) / The Godfather, Part II (1974)
    Comedy - Duck Soup (1933)
    Action - Blade Runner (1982)
    Actor - James Stewart
    Actress - Lillian Gish
    Director - Ernst Lubitsch

  • Trouble in Paradise (1932)
  • Design for Living (1933)
  • Ninotchka (1939)

    _________________________________________

    Ralph Novak (People)

    Drama - The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
    Comedy - Road to Morocco (1942)
    Action - Goldfinger (1964-British)
    Actor - John Wayne
    Actress - Ingrid Bergman
    Director - John Ford

  • The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
  • Fort Apache (1948)
  • The Searchers (1956)

    _________________________________________

    Michael H. Price (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

    Drama - Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
    Comedy - My Man Godfrey (1936)
    Action - In the Line of Fire (1993)
    Actor - Boris Karloff
    Actress - Carol Lombard
    Director - Eric Von Stroheim

  • Foolish Wives (1922)
  • Greed (1925)
  • The Wedding March (1928)

    _________________________________________

    Carrie Rickey (Philadelphia Inquirer)

    Drama - Dodsworth (1936)
    Comedy - The Lady Eve (1941)
    Action - The Terminator (1984)
    Actor - James Stewart
    Actress - Barbara Stanwyck
    Director - William Wyler

  • Dodsworth (1936)
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  • Roman Holiday (1953)

    _________________________________________

    Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)

    Drama - Children of Paradise (1945-French)
    Comedy - To Be or Not To Be (1942)
    Action - The Road Warrior (1981-Australian)
    Actor - Marlon Brando
    Actress - Katherine Hepburn

  • Director - Orson Welles
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • Touch of Evil (1958)
  • Chimes at Midnight (1966-Spanish/Swiss)

    _________________________________________

    Kristi Turnquist (The Oregonian-Portland)

    Drama - On the Waterfront (1954) / Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
    Comedy - Duck Soup (1933) / Dr. Strangelove (1964)
    Action - Stagecoach (1939)
    Actor - Marlon Brando
    Actress - Katharine Hepburn
    Director - Francois Truffaut

  • The 400 Blows (1959, French)
  • Shoot the Piano Player (1960, French)
  • Jules and Jim (1961, French)

    _________________________________________

    Bruce Williamson (Playboy)

    Drama - Citizen Kane (1941)
    Comedy - Bringing Up Baby (1938)
    Action - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
    Actor - Cary Grant
    Actress - Bette Davis
    Director - Federico Fellini

  • La Dolce Vita (1960, Italian)
  • 8 1/2 (1963, Italian)
  • Amarcord (1974, Italian)

    (Bruce Williamson died of cancer in October 1998.)

    _________________________________________

    Philip Wuntch (Dallas Morning News)

    Drama - Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
    Comedy - The Lady Eve (1941)
    Action - Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
    Actor - Dustin Hoffman
    Actress - Barbara Stanwyck
    Director - Alfred Hitchcock

  • Notorious (1946)
  • Strangers on a Train (1951)
  • North by Northwest (1959)

    _________________________________________