Top 25 + 1 Movies that I Love
I have had a Top 10 list of movies floating around in my head for at least three decades now, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten it down to fewer than 15. Finally I’ve given up and decided to go with a Top 25. Who said Top 10 was sacred, anyway?
Things have shifted here and there, the criteria for inclusion have changed, and once in a very great while a new movie gets added. At one point I decided that several of the films on the list were films that I somehow thought ought to be on the list: the ones they show you in film schools as examples of “great” films. And I realized that, while I could appreciate their greatness, or at least their craft, I didn’t really like them. Raging Bull is a good example. Many critics chose it as the best film of the ’80s, and it is a massive achievement and a very daring film, choosing to tell the story of a man with no redeeming qualities at all, a man not even his mother could love. I am in awe of it, but I don’t love it. It’s not on my list.
The rules for getting on this list are fairly basic, fairly simple. Sometimes they may even be contradictory. I don’t care.
I must genuinely love the film. Sometimes because it stunned me, awed me, when I first saw it … and every time thereafter. Other films are here because they delighted me, made me happy to be alive, gave me joy that such a movie could even exist. Sometimes a film is here because it did both things. Some films are here because they … well, they tore my guts out. They made me cry, and will make me cry again the next time I see them.
Basically, the film must be as near perfect as a human enterprise can be. There must not be a single thing I would change, if I were given the chance to do it myself. Not a sequence, not a shot, not a frame.
… except for a few where I make allowances for the time they were made, and the different standards of cinema prevailing then. (See The General.) But I have been stingy with my exceptions, and that has had a surprising result. A lot of the wonderful films of the ’30s to the ’50s, which I love, are not here because of some element that probably worked fine at the time, but doesn’t now. Musicals, which I also love, were hit hard by this rule. Most of the great old musicals were, at base, extremely silly once they stopped singing and dancing. Did any sailor in the history of seafaring ever behave with the childishness of Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and most especially Jules Munshin in On The Town? I think not. At that time there was this cinematic fiction that our servicemen were basically just overgrown kids. Aw, shucks! We all know what sailors ashore want, and the Empire State Building ain’t on the list. The singin’ and dancin’ are terrif, but the basic premise is stupid.
There are a large number of movies on this list from the 1970s. Many critics, and myself, now view this as a “Golden Age” of cinema. Movies were emerging from the strictures of sexual repression, writers and directors were pushing the boundaries, and studios were willing to fund these revolutionary concepts. Then as we moved into the ’80s and ’90s the deal makers took over and clamped down a form of repression different from that exercised by the old studio moguls, but just as stultifying. Of course some truly wonderful movies have been made since then, but most of the money has gone into stuff that is guaranteed to appeal to a target audience whose age and attention span is dwindling. So far no movie of the ’80s has hit me hard enough or stuck with me powerfully enough to dislodge the ones you see here. It can still happen; sometimes a movie plays better in retrospect.
As for the ’90s, and the 21st Century … I will not put a movie on this list until it is at least 10 years old, preferably 20. If you go to the Top 250 Films at the Internet Movie Database, you will find it is top heavy with films of the last 10 years. That’s only to be expected; many of the voters are still in their twenties. What encourages me is that some films like The Seven Samurai and Casablanca are still in the Top 10. So there are still people who are looking at all that wonderful old stuff.
Having seen how a movie actually get physically made (a bad movie, I admit, but the process is exactly the same for a good movie), from the first storyboard sketch and the first nail driven on the first set, to the editing and looping and Foley work, I have chosen to include along with the director and writer and producer (who is much more important than most people realize), the art director and the cinematographer of these movies, and usually the composer of the music. The art director is in charge of creating everything visual in the film. The cinematographer is responsible for how it all photographs. These are incredibly important to how the film comes out. And most films would just not work without the music.
I welcome seeing the top lists of visitors to this site. I always enjoy hearing about the movies that other people love to distraction.
Movies are listed in chronological order. No way I can rank them best to … least best.