In his introduction to this work, Ricardo Cavolo describes 101 Movies to Watch Before You Die as “a love story told in 101 installments,” a personal journey through the cinematic experiences that have helped in small and large ways to shape the author’s life and work. Part personal reflection, part memoir, and part film critique and history, 101 Movies is an exploration of world cinema through the eyes of a creative artist and film lover eager to share with the world his enthusiasms for the many worlds of film magic.

The book is presented almost as a visual diary or sketchbook; it presents in an intimate style, one that values honesty over polish, as if the author has merely shared with us his own private thoughts and notes without pausing to refine them for publication. Beginning with the 1902 Le Voyage Dans la Lune and ending with the 2015 The Revenant, Cavolo takes us on a chronological journey through key moments in movie-making and his own emerging understanding as a fan and as artist. Some of the films discussed are acknowledged cinematic masterpieces like Spartacus, Citizen Kane, and The Godfather, others cult fan favorites like Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and still others are examples of world cinema which may be unknown to American readers, like Amarcord (Italy), Time of the Gypsies (Yugoslavia), and La Haine (France). As I read, I found myself agreeing with some choices, perplexed by others, and often making notes of movies that I apparently really need to watch. Cavolo’s love for his subjects is clear, and his analyses are both personal and insightful (and frequently hilarious); even when I disagreed with his choices, I respected his opinion on a film.

Each film receives a two-page entry within the book; the first page is a short text description with surrounding illustrations, while the second page is a full-page, movie poster-like illustration. The font seems intended to mimic the author’s handwriting, adding to the personal notebook presentation of the world. Some pages even include scribbled out words, as if Cavolo changed his mind as he wrote.

The art here is unique and intriguing, quite different from anything I’ve previously encountered. Certainly readers accustomed to the art of mainstream American comics or graphic novels might find Cavolo’s style unusual. Each illustration captures key characters, scenes, or images from the film, completely recognizable, yet wholly original. The colors are more matte-like, lacking the vibrance and glossiness that are more common in American comics. The most striking element, though, is the eyes; each character has at least four eyes. Some have more. Eyes also peek out from inanimate objects and landscapes This could be unsettling for some readers, particularly the juxtaposition of the very familiar (such as the characters from Toy Story) with the unexpected addition of the very unfamiliar physical representations.

While there is nothing in 101 Movies that would make it inappropriate for a teen collection, it seems more suited to adult collections. While there are, I’m sure, teen cinephiles who will enjoy this book, readers of a certain age who, like Cavolo, remember coming of age in 80s and early 90s, will particularly, I think, share his appreciation for the films of his youth and perhaps his memories of sharing classic films with his parents.

101 Movies to Watch Before You Die
by Ricardo Cavolo
ISBN: 9781910620250
Nobrow, 2017

  • Beth Rogers

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Beth Rogers is Coordinator of Reference, Instruction, and Outreach at the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where she has worked to introduce and develop the library’s graphic novel collection. Also a part-time lecturer in English, Beth has taught courses on graphic novels for college students, lead book discussions on graphic novels including Watchmen and American-Born Chinese, and guest lectured on superheroes in American culture. She also maintains a book review blog, Do I Wanna Read THAT?!?!? When she’s not working, Beth enjoys action movies, knitting wee Avengers, and spoiling her dog.

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