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On Wednesday, Sight & Sound magazine released its list of the greatest films of all time. The over 800 critics who were polled found that Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane is no longer the greatest film of all time. Instead, they picked Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
I decided that I would try to create my own list, which is very difficult. Even as a lifelong dedicated film fan, there are still some great films out there that I haven’t seen from all corners of the globe. Remember, like all art, film is subjective. If you ask me what I think the greatest films are tomorrow, it could be very different and I’m sure your list is different from mine.
10. Singin’ In The Rain - Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen, 1952
If there is one musical that needs to be in the Top 10, it is the immortal Singin’ In The Rain. The film has an ethereal feeling, as if what Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen and the rest of the MGM team crafted was so perfect that it had to come from some imaginary land. Of course, it really does come from an imaginary land: the Dream Factory.
9. North By Northwest - Alfred Hitchcock, 1959
The critics may love Vertigo, but to me the perfect Hitchcock film is North By Northwest. It has all the best Hitchcock set pieces rolled into one - the debonair leading man (Cary Grant); the beautiful blonde (Eva Marie Saint); the wrong man; the sly villain (James Mason); an almost insignificant McGuffin (really, who cares about microfilm?) and great train scenes.
8. The Godfather Part II - Francis Ford Coppola, 1974
Epic storytelling from start to finish. The first film is a classic, too, but Coppola’s juxtaposition of a family and the rise and their epic fall is stunning. You can literally watch this entire film with a sense of awe as it unfolds.
7. Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb - Stanley Kubrick, 1964
Again, the critics picked 2001 to represent Kubrick, but his dark Cold War comedy remains my favorite Kubrick film. I don’t know if that’s because it was my first Kubrick or just because it’s one of the few comedies that I can watch repeatedly and still laugh at every joke. The “bodily fluids” speech gets me every time.
6. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans - F.W. Murnau, 1927
The one true silent film on my list is Sunrise, Murnau’s simple story of a couple rekindling their love. If there ever was proof out there that film could have become an even greater art form without sound, this is it.
5. Casablanca - Michael Curtiz, 1942
Casablanca is a flawless film and a perfect example of a great Hollywood romantic drama. The endlessly quotable script certainly helps and the amazing performances from Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman steal the show.
4. La Grande Illusion (Grand Illusion) - Jean Renoir, 1938
I know that the Renoir film critics consider the best is The Rules of The Game, but Grand Illusion is my favorite. It’s a film that shows the struggle between classes and nationalities in the face of war. These men could have been friends, if they weren’t on opposite sides. It isn’t as impressive technically as Rules, but its story is timeless and continues to bring audiences a new sense of war’s true cost.
3. City Lights - Charles Chaplin, 1931
I was shocked to see that there wasn’t a single Charlie Chaplin film among the critics or directors Top 10s - in fact, only one of his films made the top 50. Yes, his stuff is sentimental, and City Lights may be a chief example of that, but his influence continues to this day. City Lights, to me, is the perfect movie, blending humor and drama, holding the audience in suspense. The tale of the tramp falling in love with a bling girl is amazing. “You can see now?” “Yes I can see.” It just doesn’t get much better than that ending.
2. Sunset Boulevard - Billy Wilder, 1950
It’s amazing to me that there’s no Billy Wilder in the upper half of the list. Only Some Like It Hot made it, coming in at No. 47. Maybe I’m biased because I love his work so much, but he needs to be represented higher than that. Sunset Boulevard is a film that defies categorization and is filled with some stunning performances. It is endlessly watchable and a perfectly written indictment of Hollywood, a place that, to this day, changes people...and often not for the better.
1. Citizen Kane - Orson Welles, 1941
Modern filmmaking really starts here with Citizen Kane. Welles toyed with every imaginable aspect of filmmaking, breaking any standards Hollywood had set in the first 14 years of sound film. If The Birth Of A Nation defined the term feature film, Citizen Kane brought it to the modern age, making up all the ground that had been lost during those first years of sound.
There are many other films that should be mentioned. If I expanded this to 20, I’d probably include these: Fritz Lang’s M, John Ford’s The Searchers, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's All About Eve, Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story. I’d throw in Jaws and The Empire Strikes Back for good measure.
There have also been some fantastic films from the past two decades, like There Will Be Blood (2007) and Mullholland Drive (2001) that should not be ignored. In a few years, we’ll probably see films that have been influenced by those and we can truly learn their impact.
So what are your favorites?