Monday, November 19, 2012

The Top Ten Movies Of All Time

Here is a list of the top ten movies ever. According to (who else?) me.

Obviously, a list like this is subjective, and I certainly haven't seen all the movies. Still, I've seen a pretty representative sample of movies and I've seen a lot of the movies popularly considered classics, so this isn't coming from a narrow viewing of films. I'll only admit to a bias against older movies; not that older movies aren't good, but the technology, dialogue, and acting has gotten a lot more stable and reliable in current years, so an older movie really has to impress me to crack my top ten. I also skew towards watchability; an awesome movie that loses its appeal after you've seen the ending will be considered lower. That may not be fair--a movie really should just stand on its own--but I still feel that a truly excellent movie could somehow pull off both. (A good example of this would be The Shawshank Redemption.)

That said, I'll also admit that a lot of similar movies that might normally be good are represented only once. For example, if I include a specific director's film, and there was a similar film that was almost just as good, they only appear once. It seems sort of pointless to gum up the list with a bunch of similar movies, so I've noted those entries below. (For example, The Naked Gun could easily replace Airplane! on this list.)

And, of course, everything can change. Ask me next week and I'll probably give you a slightly different list. That's also why I didn't properly rank these entries; the difference between what would be #10 and #1 is too small to even be considered measurable.

I won't go into too many plot details for any of these--that can be looked up easily online--but I give a justification for each as to why they are on my list.

Anyway, in no particular order:

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Hands down the best western ever written--apologies to the Duke all around--this take by Sergio Leone encompasses so many different ideals while being shot as a beautiful movie as well. The premise, of course, is deceptively simple: the "Good" really isn't all that good (and is certainly quiet), the "bad"...well, he's actually pretty bad, and the "ugly" is so in spades--nominally bad, but with a proper (and emotional) justification and ends up being a sympathetic person. Sort of. Complicated, but not needlessly so, this movie eats up its lengthy running time. Pro tip: the extended version isn't worth it. (Not bad, but the added scenes add nothing.) Once Upon A Time In The West is an excellent companion, more so than the proper sequels to GBU. 

Children of Men: This film sets the perfect tone to make you feel as uneasy as possible. Mankind is living in a world where everyone knows they are going to die, and yet everyone also knows it's a few decades away, so life more or less goes on as normal. Painting this bleak picture of sheer, low-key terror--occasionally punctuated with legitimate acts of violence and political dissent--is significantly more effective than any overt scenario of immediate apocalyptic terror could ever be. And the single-shot war scene is one of the most terrifyingly beautiful things to witness on film.

Primer: Famously low-budget (supposedly shot on a budget of 7000 bucks), it looks it.  And yet the science behind this time-travel tale carried the movie the whole way through. You don't get to see flashy effects and the "hard" science explanations sound equally plausible and baffling, yet the basic concept is simple enough and the script takes us for the rest of the ride. I almost put Donnie Darko in this slot, but the sheer impressiveness of the plot (less the unexplained weirdness of Darko) put this one over the top.

Airplane!: Nominally a spoof of the disaster-of-the-week movies of the 1970's, it ended up being a cultural phenomenon  not only did it re-start Leslie Nielsen's career as a comic actor, but it created a long, long list of parody movies of admittedly variable quality. Less a "situation" comedy and more just an absolute barrage of bad puns and even more horrible (by which we mean awesome) dialogue, its only drawback is to be slightly dated.

Patton: It may not be the first proper biopic, but it's certainly one of the best. A long, epic detailing of Patton's life--or, more appropriately, his time in the European theater for World War II--this movie set the standard pretty much since. People not interested in the detailing of the behind-the-scenes drama of the European leadership during the war will still find plenty to enjoy (and learn) from this movie.

Gran Torino: Seen by many to be Clint Eastwood's swan song (though, as it turns out, not really), this story of racial tensions and badassery hits every sentiment without all that pesky emotions. Not only is the story unusual in a variety of ways--picking the Hmong of Detroit as the race involved, making Walt simultaneously sympathetic and reprehensible at the same time, and somehow making the priest not be the one to give the proper "Can't we all just get along" speech--there's enough action and unexpected resolution that after the movie is over you don't realize that there was a message there after all.

Shawshank Redemption: This is one of the few movies with a supposed "twist" at the end (although it's not exactly unexpected) that still holds up to repeated viewings. There's not a lot this movie doesn't get right.

Inglourious Basterds: A rather absurd movie about a group of undercover Nazi hunters in Germany during World War II, this stretches all points of believability while still being an absolutely fantastic movie. Even if you don't care for Quentin Tarantino's style, this movie doesn't dwell on his trademarks quite so much. While more than just an overt homage to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, it takes Tarantino's dialogue and makes it so tense you can feel the sweat from the characters. It's not for everyone but it's still pretty good.

The Big Lebowski: One can be forgiven for not liking this movie; it has a rather pointless plot that sort of rambles along, it has the exact sort of creepy bookended narrator that I find pretentious, and very few of the characters are likable in any way (save for poor Donnie). And, indeed, when I saw this Coen Brothers movie for the first time, I didn't like it at all. Yet later viewings made me appreciate it more, to the point where it made this list. It's hard to really explain its appeal except to encourage you to see it. (I almost put O Brother, Where Art Thou or No Country For Old Men, both Coen Brothers productions that easily fill this slot, but Lebowski is the best overall.)

Hot Fuzz: After decades of Airplane!-style spoofs (see above), the parody genre seemed all but dead; a string of horrible movies nearly killed it. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, two British actors/writers/comedians started one of the few revivals in earnest, first with the zombie/horror film Shaun of the Dead. I prefer the police-procedural parody Hot Fuzz as not only funnier but more accessible to a wider audience. While it doesn't have the rapid-fire jokes of Airplane, it more than makes up for it by having actual personalities in their characters that serve more than just props for a joke.

Honorable Mentions (again, in no particular order): 

Bridesmaids: Brash, crude, and more than just a little sweet, this takes the romantic comedy and leads it to its logical conclusion: women are absolutely filthy animals, just like men are. While it drags just a bit in the middle when the main character hits rock bottom, the rest of the movie somehow manages to mix the crass and the cute for an intimately satisfying film. 
Lawrence of Arabia: It was either this or Patton above for the standard three-hour biopic category; this one is a little overly long for the subject matter, but it's still a remarkably beautiful movie. A few too many scenes of Lawrence dancing in the desert, though.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The best of the series by far and the only one worth repeat viewings. Harrison Ford at his best, with the extra added bonus of Sean Connery and a very smart script.
Se7en: The very first time you watch it (and assume you haven't been spoiled by the thousands of pop culture references to the film), this is an amazing film as you realize what's happening just as the characters do. This probably would have made the top ten, but once you know the ending it doesn't hold up quite as well.
The Bank Job: A fairly standard action heist film made great by sharp writing, a believable cast, and (strangely) based on a true story. I wouldn't consider it a classic, but it's just the right blend of history, character, and intelligence that more action movies need.
There Will Be Blood: An epic, drawn-out drama about the oil industry at the turn of the century, it captures the period perfectly and does so beautifully. (The oil business may seem like a boring subject, but they make it surprisingly interesting.) Some of the character development skips around and gets jumpy, but not so much as to distract from the film.
Snatch/Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels: I've lumped these together because they are pretty much the exact same film. (RocknRolla almost makes it except for its stupid name and painfully contrived macguffin.) These aren't great classic films and the similarity is more than disappointing, but the artistic style is certainly unique. Probably the most "fun" non-comedy on this list. If you watch one and like it, watch all of Guy Ritchie's "caper" films (although expect some creepy Kabbalah references in Revolver--thanks, Madonna!). They aren't to everyone's tastes, but Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels has enough of an indy feel to it that it's still a lot of fun.
Princess Bride: A solid classic that is purely enjoyable and quotable, this sweet story blends a near-perfect mix of comedy, romance, and action, and ends up being suitable for kids as well. If it weren't for the awkward bookending of grandpa reading to this grandson (although more of Peter Falk is rarely a bad thing) it would be a near perfect movie.
Dr. Strangelove: A very, very, very black comedy, it manages to both critique the madness of Mutually Assured Destruction while also giving a backhanded (and probably unintentional) support for its rationale. It's not quite as funny as its fans make it out to be, and some of the goofiness seems oddly out of place next to the otherwise tight script, but it captures the mood of the nation in a bleak yet humorous way.
Bridge on the River Kwai: A beautiful movie, perhaps overly long, and not the best war picture, but the build-up to what eventually degenrates into complete madness (Madness!) at the end shows both the glory and the pointlessness of war.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Absurdity, as a concept, rarely makes a good movie, but the Python boys were pros. Don't expect a linear plot or any sort of historical accuracy; even if you're not a fan of the comedy troupe you can appreciate this skewering of the Arthurian legend.

So what did I miss? What should I watch? What, of the above, is absolute trash? 

Edit: Yeah, this is an edit to a three-year old post. But upon reviewing it, I realized that I really should have some Hitchcock on here somewhere as well as some Mel Brooks. Maybe I'll re-sort these under a new blog post. 

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