Frank's Faves: Movie titles

Frank's Faves: Movie titles

This week: Ready to play the name game — again? How about a game of 'Name That Movie'?

Last week, I segued gracefully from talking about naming a new cat to my favorite names of movie characters. If you thought that was a bit of a stretch, you'll be relieved to find you won't have to strain nearly as much to get to this week's topic. After all, what's more important than the perfect name for a character? Why the perfect title for the movie, of course, without which we might never get to that clever name.

Naturally, if the names given movie characters can be more than wordplay, but a genuine reveal (as demonstrated in the previous Faves), the same can be said for the names given the movies themselves. Take, for example, the name of one of my favorite movie musicals. Would "Fiddler on the Roof" have been nearly as memorable under the title of the book on which it was based, "Tevye and His Daughters"? Of course not. The "Fiddler" of the title is not only visually literal (although whether anyone but Tevye sees him is debatable), but dead-on metaphorical as well, as it's easy to recognize a Jewish peasant's precarious position in tsarist Russia, as Tevye describes it, "trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck."

The odd thing about this category of faves is that as I look over the list below, it would appear that my idea of a great movie title is one with a lot of words, but all evidence to the contrary aside, I'm not sure that's true. Some movie titles are great BECAUSE they are short and succinct — like "Jaws" or "Psycho," but they can also be punchy and to the point in multiple syllables, like "The Fast and the Furious" or "The Ghost and the Darkness." Or they can be weird enough to make you actually want to watch an otherwise dumb flick: Like "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" or "Sharknado."

Actually, I think my choice of faves of this particular variety reflects more that I like my movie titles to be literarily offbeat enough to lure me into the theater to find out what they mean, yet perfectly fitting ever after. That is undoubtedly the unifying thread in each and every one of:


"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975). This Oscar-winning title is from the novel by Ken Kesey, and its genius is that it is both a spoiler and a tease. Only one "cuckoo" flies free at the end, and the reveal of who it is simultaneously reveals the story's true protagonist (hint: It's not Jack Nicholson's R.P. McMurphy).

"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964). Director Stanley Kubrick's apocalyptic farce is more commonly known by just its first two words, but it's the full title that sets the appropriate satiric tone for this dark comedy starring Peter Sellers in three brilliant roles and George C. Scott as Gen. 'Buck' Turgidson (another great movie character name, right up there with Sellers' President Merkin Muffley).

"Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels" (1998). British writer-director Guy Ritchie's comic actioner made an international star of Jason Statham, but it also gave us one of the best movie titles ever — punchy, violent and tongue in cheek, just like the film itself.

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004). A romantic science-fiction comedy from the mind of Charlie Kaufman clearly calls for a suitably lofty and obscure title, and this is it. Lyrically loopy, yet aptly descriptive. And brilliant.

"There Will Be Blood" (2007). Paul Thomas Anderson's title gives the viewer fair warning of the violence to come, yet still manages to cast an ominous shadow over the entire film — right up until the excruciating final scene. I suppose an equally apt title might have been "I Drink Your Milkshake," but that just doesn't have the same kick, ya know?

And five runners-up so eye-grabbing they scarcely need explaining:

"No Country For Old Men" (2007).

"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" (2007).

"Gone With the Wind" (1939).

"Apocalypse Now" (1979).

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" (2009).

Topics (1):Film