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San Francisco is undeniably a great filmmaking city, loved by legendary directors like Alfred Hitchcock and David Fincher, but also filled with consistent cinema from local filmmakers – from ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ to ‘Mrs. Doubtfire” to “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”.

Picking the best films of all time filmed here is more of a subjective minefield due to the eclectic nature of the best films. How does one compare the quirky and quotable comedy of So I Married an Ax Murderer to the intensely dramatic paranoia of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation? And where does Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home fit in with its space whales?

Tony Bravo and I found a solution on the Total SF Podcast. With the Castro Theater returning to showing movies and more theaters reopening in the Bay Area, we’ve put together a hypothetical two-day program for the Castro that represents the top 10 San Francisco movies.

It’s an asterisk list. At the end of the episode, we ditched established classics to make room for our favorite films. (If Tony looks through 10 movies in two days, his beloved The Princess Diaries has to be one of them.)

But as conversation starters, we love our list. These are not ordered, but they start with our “locks” and descend to more controversial decisions.

“Vertigo” (1958): This was an easy first choice for me and Tony. As close as local cinephiles will likely ever come to a consensus on “best San Francisco film,” “Vertigo” topped lists for best film of all time, period.

Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller follows a private investigator (James Stewart) with a fear of heights who is hired to track a mysterious woman (Kim Novak). The less you know about it, the better; It’s brilliantly written, acted and shot, with stunning San Francisco exteriors including a Mission Dolores gravesite and the Union Iron Works shipyard in the Dogpatch neighborhood.

“Ms. Doubt” (1996): Our second film that didn’t need a debate on this list. The story of a father who dresses up as an old English nanny to be closer to his children is the most quotable film in San Francisco film history. (“It was a passing fruit” … “Hellooooo!”)

Doubtfire is the San Francisco film from Bay Area comedian Robin Williams, in which SF director Chris Colombus and Bay Area writers and producers keep the local DNA strong.

Sean Penn plays San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk in the 2008 film Milk.

Sean Penn plays San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk in the 2008 film Milk.

focus functions

Bullitt (1968): This Steve McQueen classic trumps “Dirty Harry” in the SF cop pantheon for its 11-minute epic chase, meditative mood, and compelling Steve McQueen performance. Ford Mustangs and Turtlenecks on Leading Men Forever.

“To me, Steve McQueen is the coolest guy to ever walk the streets of this city,” Tony says on the podcast.

“Milk” (2008): Sean Penn won an Oscar for portraying Harvey Milk and Dustin Lance Black won a screenwriting Oscar in one of SF’s most acclaimed films; a biographical drama about the rise of Milk and the empowerment of the LGBTQ+ community in city politics.

Tony says, “What more Castro experience can there be than seeing Milk at the Castro Theater and seeing the scene where the Castro is lit up at night and Peaches Christ leads the crowd in protest?”

“Invasion of the Body Thieves” (1979): We both love Philip Kaufman’s take on the alien pod-people takeover film, which lovingly captures 1970s San Francisco with unique locations and daring cinematography, even as it terrifies us with its escalating paranoid horror. Brooke Adams, Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy lead an outstanding cast.

Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) are San Francisco Chronicle employees who become tangled up in the clues and symbols left behind by a serial killer in the 2007 film "zodiac."

Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) are San Francisco Chronicle employees who become tangled up in the clues and symbols left behind by a serial killer in the 2007 film Zodiac.

Warner Brothers and Paramount

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (2018): The Last of Our Locks, this latest indie triumph from locals Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails is a powerfully written dreamlike love letter to the city that failed both the characters and the real-life filmmakers.

“I think it’s as good as ‘Vertigo’ because it reads almost like a poem,” says Tony. “It’s this beautiful, intimate odyssey.”

“Zodiac” (2007): Tony and I both appreciated David Fincher’s detailed imagery of San Francisco in the 1970s, the obsessive tribute to the detectives and journalists chasing the “Zodiac,” and of course, the ample use of the San Francisco Chronicle Newsroom – largely recreated on a Los Angeles because Fincher found the real newsroom too chaotic.

Hector Elizondo teaches Anne Hathaway how to be smarter in 2001's The Princess Diaries.

Hector Elizondo teaches Anne Hathaway how to be smarter in 2001’s The Princess Diaries.

Walt Disney images

“What’s up Doc?” (1972): Our longest debate has been what to include in the second comedy spot on the list. Peter Bodanovich’s screwball comedy featured a dangerous car chase in Alta Plaza Park, starred Barbra Streisand, and made greater use of SF outdoor locations.

“The Diaries of the Princess” (2001): The first of two “It’s our list so take care of it” picks.

Tony loves this Disney comedy, starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews, about a shy SF teenager who learns she’s European royalty. We both had trouble de-listing Sister Act and Ax Murderer, but we felt that Doubtfire represented those movies from the 1990s.

“Starship Enterprise IV” (1986): The second selection “it’s our list so take care of it”.

How does this light sci-fi time-travel adventure make the list without Francis Ford Coppola’s underrated masterpiece The Conversation? Until Coppola films a Muni Bus scene where a punk rocker gets his nerves pinched by Mr. Spock Vulcan, it’s not a contest.

Other SF movies that are heavily considered: Dark Passage (1947), Sudden Fear (1952), Dirty Harry (1971), The Conversation (1974), Sister Act (1992), So I Married an Ax Murderer (1993 ). ), The Game (1996), The Rock (1997), Blue Jasmine (2013), Inside Out (2015):

Sorry, not sorry I left these out. We were close to picking The Conversation and Sister Act (or So I Married an Ax Murderer) as our ninth and tenth films before the more selfish Princess Diaries and Star Trek IV caught on.

“Blue Jasmine” was penalized for having a troubled director. “I’m glad we’re discussing this, but I don’t like having Woody Allen on this list,” Tony said.

Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart during the making of the 1958 film “Vertigo” which had a cemetery scene in Mission Dolores, San Francisco.

Chronicle archive 1958

Regarding “San Francisco” (1936) and “The Maltese Falcon” (1941): Musical drama and film noir classics are important to the city’s film history. “That gave us one of our two official theme songs,” Tony said of Jeanette MacDonald’s “San Francisco,” which reaches the film’s emotional climax.

But we practically disqualified them because they shot almost exclusively on Los Angeles sound stages. Also, modern movies that are set in SF and have little real filmmaking here (the recent Planet of the Apes movies, San Andreas) didn’t get much attention either.

Peter Hartlaub (he/him) is a cultural critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @PeterHartlaub

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