Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Thirty Best Films of All Time...

...according to me, anyway.

(Warning: this post is a piece of pure unabashed self-indulgence. I myself am fascinated by lists and favourites, especially when it comes to movies. I would always be interested in a list of somebody's favourite movies of all time, even if it was written the dogcatcher of Little Peartree, Arkansas. So this list is aimed at my fellow nerds.)

As previously mentioned on this blog, I keep an ultra-anoraky Excel file of all the films I've ever seen, which I diligently update each time I see a new one. There are currently 951 films on the list. (That isn't even including all the films I have a hazy, far-off memory of having seen in the depths of childhood.)

I give each film marks out of five, and out of all those hundreds only thirty films have received five marks out of five. I am ruthless in awarding full marks only to films I actually watch again and again, and not to films that I feel I should watch again and again. So no Citizen Kane and no Casablanca.

So here goes, in no particular order:

The American President (1995)

Dialogue so sharp it might make your ears bleed. "They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand." "People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty; they drink the sand because they don't know the difference." Even though the film caricatures conservatives and rather idealises liberals, its mood is basically warm, chivalrous and generous. These are the kind of liberals for whom I can feel affection, liberals that are not fundamentally hostile to religion or patriotism or tradition. At one point Michael J. Fox's character even says to the President (played by Michael Douglas), "You have a deeper love of this country than any man I've ever known". It is a feast for the eyes, too.

A Hard Day's Night (1964)

A romp of sheer good-natured exuberance. It's a fine example of early nineteen-sixties optimism, before the decade descended into drugs and destructiveness. The Beatles are cast more as naughty schoolboys than as pop idols, and the film's much-lauded technical experimentation is not at all obtrusive. It merely gives it all a sense of zippiness.

Airport (1970)

Yes, seriously. Melodrama is an art as legitimate as any other, and this is melodrama superbly done. It captures the essential drama of aviation and airports-- all those disparate stories and lives thrown together-- magnificently. And yes, its cheesiness is a lot of fun.

Shaft (1971)

It's not just some mediocre film tacked onto a great opening credits theme. Shaft takes a character and his world and makes you buy into them entirely. The bustling, hustling streets of seventies New York seem to come to life around you-- you can almost smell the hot dogs on the chilly air. And it has one of the greatest last lines of all time.

Flash Gordon (1980)

One of the things cinema does best is to take us to an utterly different world, a world forged entirely in the imagination. And few films do it better than this one. For all its self-aware ludicrousness, you can't help getting caught up in the story. "Ah, well, who wants to live forever? Dive!"

Groundhog Day (1993)

My favourite film of all time. In this post I try to explain why, and inevitably fail.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Though Groundhog Day is my favourite film of all time, I think Pulp Fiction is the greatest film ever made, a bravura performance of sheer move-making genius. I think there is something downright superhuman about Tarantino's achievement with this one. How did he do it? Every single line of dialogue is worth analysing in depth. There is something uncanny about this film. Whenever I watch the final scene of the hold-up in the diner, I feel as though something has actually happened, something that transcends the bounds of fiction. I can't put it any better than that.

The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)

Yes, seriously. Everybody hated this film except me. I had never seen the TV show before I saw the film. I didn't even know what it was about. I think that let me see it fresh. What I love about this film is that I really get a sense of characters who exist before I started watching them and who go on existing when the film ends, in a kind of eternal idyll of the Deep South, and a perpetual adolescence.

Kill Bill Part 1 (2003)

The scene where The Bride looks at the samurai swords in Hattori Hanzai's attic, while soft music plays and a gentle sunlight shines upon the blades, is one of the most magical scenes in all cinema. And that is only one of many gorgeous, voluptuous scenes.

Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

An utterly perfect blend of comedy, horror and adventure. I especially like the swordfight between Jack Sparrow and Bill Turner, where action and dialogue is combined to sublime effect. The sequels were all dreadful beyond words.

The Aviator (2004)

The greatest biopic ever made? The film is a three-hour feast of colour, atmosphere, montage, period detail and sound. Scene blends into scene with breathless urgency, taking us into the intense and driven mind of Howard Hughes. Viewed as history, the film is far too gentle on its subject. Viewed purely as cinema it is flawless.

The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

See my remarks on Flash Gordon. I didn't expect much when I went to see this in the cinema. By the time the credits were rolling, I had decided I would go again the very next day. An unfairly lambasted film, that paid the price for being ambitious and trying something totally different.

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

I'm not a Jane Austen fan, but Joe Wright's version of this story captivated me. It manages to combine muddy, provincial reality with soaring romance.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Everybody dreams of little villages where everybody knows everybody and you may as well break for lunch at 11:30. In this film, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright conjure comedy magic from that eternal English idyll.

Cromwell (1980)

A historical drama that is utterly po-faced and utterly enthralling. Who'd have guessed that you don't need bare bosoms and wild psychological speculation to make history interesting? This film presents both Cromwell and King Charles the First as flawed but idealistic men who lived and died by their principles. One of the most adult films I've ever seen.

Shadowlands (1993)

"We read to know that we are not alone". A film that takes Christianity, reading and love seriously.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Quite simply the funniest film ever made.

Dead of Night (1945)

For horror fans who prefer chills to either thrills or spills. This Ealing production is irresistibly English. Although I've always found the last story of the anthology-- the famous ventriloquist story-- too intense for comfort.

The Wicker Man (1973)

The greatest horror film ever made. It takes something usually seen as quaint and picturesque-- British mythology and folk tradition-- and makes it terrifying. A film of real religious depth.

From Beyond the Grave (1974)

The best of the Amicus anthology horrors. Amicus were like Hammer horror except better. Much better.

Rocky (1976)

"Adrian! Adrian!". The most romantic film ever made, for my money.

Trading Places (1983)

A quintessentially eighties film. The whole thing has the flavour of a proverb or a joke, the characters being more like archetypes than individuals. Moves from set-piece scene to set-piece scene with aristocratic ease.

The Color of Money (1976)

A much-underrated film. The scene in which Fast Eddie walks down some stairs to the still-deserted hall where a pool tournament going to take place, and the green baize and the coloured balls glow invitingly under the electric lights, is one of the most gorgeous and evocative in all cinema.

The Naked Gun
Naked Gun 2-and-a-Half: The Smell of Fear
Naked Gun 33-and-a-Third: The Final Insult (1988-1994)

It's the straight face that does it. Not only are these films hilarious, but inside their own zany universe they stand up as fine cop stories. The production values are top-notch.

Scream (1996)

Horror and black comedy, perfectly welded together. The scene in which the identity of the killer is revealed is disturbingly realistic in atmosphere, for all the implausibilities in the script.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Yes, these kids are narcissistic and rather bratty, but this film must be one of the most profound studies in group dynamics ever made, and its cathartic power is remarkable. Even the dancing sequence, in all its 1980s cheesiness, fits. And that final, fist-in-the-air freeze-frame...!

Some films fall out of my five-out-of-five club, and some films are promoted to it. I do not award marks on the basis of cool critical objectivity, but rather on the basis of what the films mean to me, at a particular moment of my life. Watching movies are one of the many ways we make sense of our lives, and find meaning in it, and I am not in the least bit abashed that my movie-watching is a part of my whole being, rather than a sealed-off screening room where I step entirely out of time and space and my own circumstances.

Movies are not life, but they are a part of life (at least for passionate fans like myself). The big screen, and the big world outside the big screen-- as well as my little place inside that big world-- all come together to make every movie-watching experience the unique event that it is.

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