Around the new year, New York Times contributor Stanley Fish published a column called the Ten Best American Movies. I looked it over and realized none of them would make my ten best list, and none of my ten best were on his list. Fish’s list: The Best Years of Our Lives, Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, Shane, Red River, Raging Bull, Vertigo, Groundhog Day, Meet Me in St. Louis, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Fish states that the first two are #1 and #2 and the rest are tied for #3. That was a neat trick, I thought, and some of the movies are among my most admired. But Sunset Boulevard was a huge disappointment to me when I finally saw it—I thought Swanson looked phony and downright cuckoo and any halfway sane guy would run for his life at first sight. If Holden was even slightly attracted to her (the only way the plot would have made sense) he didn’t show it one iota. I didn’t see Raging Bull and couldn’t be persuaded to, much as I adore de Niro. And Vertigo never quite worked for me. It’s slick and entertaining, but overall just a little dull and sleep-inducing.
Today I attempt a more ambitious list, the ten best movies ever made. You're bound to disagree. My list will not contain all of Slezak’s English favorites, but it will not be only American movies either. They will not be in any particular order, but all are cherished for different reasons.
La Strada—Federico Fellini’s heartbreaking masterpiece of dependence versus romance, with towering performances by Anthony Quinn, Guillieta Masini and Richard Basehart.
The Seventh Seal—My favorite Ingmar Bergman, elegant and dark, with a troupe of traveling players and a silent stalker called Death.
Henry V—By turns educational, charming, inspiring and romantic, Laurence Olivier takes the bard’s play from a performance at the Globe, expertly recreated, seamlessly to the fields of Agincourt where a real king becomes a man.
Seven Chances—Buster Keaton, to my mind the greatest silent film comedian (I know, I know, there was another one, who may have been a full-fledged genius), at his best in acting with just a look in his eyes. A delightful climax displays his great talent for running.
Citizen Kane—A thoroughly intellectual film by the young Orson Welles, skewering William Randolph Hearst with a brave little movie that ended up wrecking Welles’ own career rather than that of the man he set out to expose.
Brief Encounter—The touchingly doomed English romance, with superb performances and a script by Noel Coward.
Of Human Bondage—Bette Davis delivers a knockout punch with her portrayal as she tries to destroy the well-intentioned but hapless Leslie Howard in this telling of the Somerset Maugham tale.
From Here to Eternity—Pearl Harbor is made real with some wonderful actors and the most powerful kiss ever filmed. Who needs a nude bedroom scene after that?
To Kill a Mockingbird—Everybody’s favorite father figure, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, helps some innocent Southern kids understand the meaning of the word character in this beautiful filming of the Harper Lee novel. My favorite scene, at the end, is when the blacks, ringing the balcony of the courtroom, say to the little girl, "Stand up, Miss Jean Louise. Your father is passing."
Singin’ in the Rain—Hollywood looks at itself and gives us a passel of good songs, awesomely great dances, and a movie to remember. Who can forget Donald O’Connor with that dummy on the couch and jumping through the “wall” at the big finish of the “Be a Clown” number, or that one where Gene Kelly gets all wet while dancing in the puddles?
You're probably mystified by some of my choices. You probably know whether I got the quote right from To Kill a Mockingbird. There were a couple of near-misses when I pared the list to ten, and maybe I should have included some of them. Care to make up a list of your own? Turns out it's not so easy as I thought it would be.