I worked on a sitcom once with writer and comedian Sid Youngers, who told me he was going to write a memoir called “Two Down.” He had made a list of ten things he wanted to accomplish in his life—quarterback a Super Bowl-winning football team, win the Masters, write a great novel, etc. The last two items on his list were: “Smoke a lot of weed. Watch a lot of TV.” Which he followed with the quip: “Two down.” This is one of the greatest jokes I have ever heard in my life. It ranks up there with Groucho Marx’s line: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of dog, it’s too dark to read.”
The concept of the bucket list was created by screenwriter Justin Zackham. He had made a list of things he wanted to do before he kicked the bucket, and appropriately called it his “Bucket List.” One of the items on his list was to write a screenplay that would be produced by a major Hollywood studio. He then wrote the screenplay for The Bucket List (2007). One down!
I don’t have a bucket list other than to try not to disappoint my kids too much, get a Yamaha Grand Piano again, and go to Buenos Aires to see the Superclásico match between the Boca Junior and River Plate soccer teams.
Back to Zackham and The Bucket List. The premise of this funny and heart-tugging movie is that billionaire Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) meets car mechanic Carter Chamber (Morgan Freeman) in a hospital after both have received identical diagnoses for terminal lung cancer. (You’re laughing already, aren’t you?)
The two men concoct a scheme to go on a road trip to try to fulfill their bucket lists. A comical journey ensues but turns into a deeply affecting emotional story about two men who have lived large but flawed lives and who attempt to come to terms with their families and their pasts. And the ending? You’ll laugh and cry at the same time. Which is quite an accomplishment for any film. Directed by Rob Reiner, and is what I consider his best movie since The Princess Bride (1987) or A Few Good Men (1992).
So that begs the question… what movies do you want to see (or see again) before you kick the bucket? Here’s my Movie Bucket List for you. These are the movies I love and think everyone should watch (or rewatch) at some point in their lives.
This Italian movie is about a village in Tuscany during the waning days of World War II. It’s one of the loveliest movies I’ve ever seen. It was directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, and tells the story of a village waiting for the arrival of invading Allied troops as the Nazis retreat. The German Army has wired a number of the buildings to explode, threatening the townspeople with the destruction of their town. Half of the villagers decide to gather in the church for protection and the other half flee into the countryside, looking for the Americans. This is beautifully shot (Franco di Giacomo did the cinematography) and features a moving and powerful story of middle-aged romance. Unforgettable movie. I highly recommend it.
This is the great Orson Welles movie you never heard of. Welles took all the Falstaff parts of Shakespeare’s history plays, blended them together, and centered the film on the rapacious, irresponsible and amusing character of Falstaff, and then took on the role himself. It’s a great idea for a movie and Welles pulled it off with tremendous flair. Also starring in the film are Sir John Gielgud (King Henry IV), Jeanne Moreau as the prostitute Doll Tearsheet, and one of my all-time favorites, Margaret Rutherford as Mistress Quickly. At its heart, this movie is the story of a betrayal of friendship. It also features one of the most terrifying battle sequences ever put on film. This movie is a remarkable piece of work by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Check it out.
Starting in college, I was always hearing from people who love movies that I really have to see this one by the magnificent Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’d say. I will. I will. Then other things that seemed significantly more fun (like, say, grocery shopping or getting a haircut) would come up and I’d miss it again. Finally, one night in 1991, I was alone in my apartment and the movie came on at 1 a.m. on some lonely channel in Los Angeles. Well, okay, I thought, I’ll watch it. Rashomon is set in medieval Japan, and I was transfixed by the intricate and fascinating construction of the movie—several different characters all describe the same incident, but from their perspective, which often contradicts other people’s versions. The film stars Toshirô Mifune as a bandit. Mifune is probably the greatest Japanese actor of all time. Remarkable cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa. Stop making excuses and rent this masterpiece. You really should.
Yes, you should watch this movie again. Only this time, don’t think of it as just a science fiction movie. Think of it as a parable about American madness. The movie proposes that every completely crazy idea that some totally normal, everyday person has is not crazy but actually true. Plus: the government is covering it up. The aliens don’t actually show up until close to the final frames of the movie. Up to that point, it’s all about the feeling that even though everyone else thinks you’ve gone crazy and they’re ruining your life, you know something is up. Something is going on. And it turns out you are right! Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Melinda Dillon, and Teri Garr head the cast. Breathtaking cinema by Vilmos Zsigmond, and an unforgettable score from John Williams—perhaps the best he ever composed for Steven Spielberg. Spielberg wrote the script himself, and it’s so good it always made me wonder why he doesn’t write his own scripts more often.
Yes, I have watched this movie twenty-seven times. Charlie Chaplin’s finest movie, it tells the story of the Little Tramp and his misadventures as he tries to raise money to pay for the eye surgery of a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill). It’s a silent movie, a romantic comedy, and has some of the finest comic sequences in all of Chaplin’s films. And then there’s the ending. The blind girl has been cured and the Little Tramp is more impoverished than ever. He happens upon the blind girl one day as she works at a flower shop. He is smitten but she doesn’t recognize him until she accidentally touches his face. She then caresses his face and remembers it from when she was blind and that was how she identified him—by the shape of his face. “It’s you,” she says. The Little Tramp smiles. Cue: sobbing by me. This is the original You’ll Laugh, You’ll Cry movie. The one movie I think everyone absolutely has to see.
Oh, and one more bonus movie: Koyaanisqattsi: Life Out of Balance (1983). The title is a Hopi Indian word meaning “Life Out of Balance.” Godfrey Reggio’s jaw-dropping and trance-inducing mashup of footage of both modern life and the natural world. The unforgettable score is by Philip Glass. One of the most astonishing movies you’ll ever see.
Which movies are on your bucket list? And why? What movies would you insist be on everyone else’s Movie Bucket List? For example, last year, I was talking to a woman I know very well and she said she had never seen The Godfather (1972). After I picked myself up from the floor in shock, I insisted we watch it despite her fears that it was just some shoot-em-up action picture. As the closing credits rolled, she turned to me and said: “Wow. What was I waiting for? That movie was REALLY great.” Yup. If you haven’t seen it yet, put it on your Movie Bucket List.
Go to DVD Netflix's 20th anniversary site to fill in your own movie bucket list!
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.