At Salon, one of my favorite movie critics, Matt Zoller Seitz, created a slideshow of his picks for DVDs he'd want if stranded on a desert island (with, presumably, endless food and water and a great home/island video system). There are rules (1 short, 1 season of a TV show, etc.). Many people have left their own lists in the comments section of the slideshow, and critic Jim Emerson has also offered his own list, with further lists made by commenters at his site.
So, to keep the internet going, here is my contribution...
Short Film: "The Goat" (1921). Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection is easily on my list of top 10 DVDs of all time. Under the rules of this meme, there's no way to include the whole thing, so I have to make the impossible choice between various Keaton shorts. I cherish "The Goat" because it has just about everything there is to love about Keaton in it, especially his extraordinary visual cleverness. While there are plenty of other shorts I love, both old (Griffith's "Musketeers of Pig Alley" was a close second, but I decided I'd prefer to have a comedy on a desert island than a melodrama) and new ("Plastic Bag"), there's nothing quite like Keaton.
TV Season: The Wire, Season 3 (2004). Another impossible choice, since it means splitting up the complete set of Wire DVDs I have. I'd go with the third season because it ties up the Barksdale story arc and lets us remember a lot of what has happened in the previous two seasons. Also, plenty of Omar. I don't watch many TV shows, but this is one I think I could watch again and again for quite a long time. It was a close call between The Wire, the first season of Twin Peaks, and one of the Granada Sherlock Holmes seasons, but The Wire's depth and complexity won out in my heart.
Spies (1928): This may be Fritz Lang's most entertaining movie, filled with all sorts of wonder, and made at the height of his power.
Vampyr (1932): Ideally, every desert island would come equipped with all of Carl Th. Dreyer's major films, but if I had to choose one, it would be Vampyr. I think The Passion of Joan of Arc and his three features after Vampyr are in many ways better movies, but Vampyr is the one that appeals to my aesthetic the most -- it's endlessly strange, surreal, haunting, bizarre. (Note to self: when packing for the island, be sure to grab the restored version and not some cheap other version, because we know from experience that watching this movie in a bad version completely ruins it.)
Duck Soup (1933): I can't count how many times I've watched this movie, my favorite of the Marx Brothers' rather mixed oeuvre. No matter how many times I've seen it, I still laugh.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939): Choosing one Howard Hawks movie is impossible — on another day, I'd go with Scarface or His Girl Friday or The Big Sleep or To Have and Have Not or Rio Bravo — but I nearly agree with Jim Emerson, who put it on his desert island, too, and called it, "The most entertaining movie ever made." Certainly among the most entertaining ever made.
The Rules of the Game (1939): Cinema doesn't get better than this.
The Lady Eve (1941): Again the impossibility —how to choose one Preston Sturges film?! (In reality, were I suddenly whisked to a desert island, I'd bring the whole Preston Sturges Collection.) This isn't Sturges's funniest movie, I don't think, but it beautifully mixes humor and pathos in a perfectly constructed plot with perfectly cast actors.
The 400 Blows (1959): Whenever I'm asked what my favorite movie is, I say The 400 Blows. It's not true, because I don't have one favorite movie, but it's certainly a film I've watched many times and am always happy to watch again.
Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980): Not necessarily my favorite Fassbinder, but Fassbinder is one of my favorites. Berlin Alexanderplatz contains much of what is great about his work, and it's 15+ hours long, so perfect for a desert island. (MZS mentions it specifically in his rules for this meme, too. I had thought it might count as a TV series, but, as he says, "You can put all 15 hours of “Berlin Alexanderplatz” on the list because it’s considered one long film [or if you saw it in Germany, a TV miniseries]...")
The New World [Extended Cut] (2005): My favorite Terrence Malick movie, and one of the most beautiful films I know. The perfect film to live in whilst stranded on a desert island.
Across the Universe (2007): Because we need at least a little bit of music on the island. As I was thinking about how to whittle down among various favorite films that have music as a central element —Cabaret, Stop Making Sense, Big Time, Topsy-Turvy, I'm Not There —I came back to this because it always makes me smile at the end, and if you're stuck on a desert island, you need some cause to smile.
Egads, how quickly we get to ten! So much is missing —Man with a Movie Camera, Public Enemy, Stagecoach, Citizen Kane, I Walked with a Zombie, The Man from Laramie, Seven Samurai, Vertigo, Barry Lyndon, Miami Vice — that's another ten right off the top of my head (and it's still missing Unfinished Piece for Player Piano, Mulholland Drive, The White Diamond — okay, I'll stop)! I'm really glad I don't have to go to a desert island any time soon...