Friday, May 1, 2009

The Ten Best Movies Ever Made

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.


Hoboken Kid said...

Picking the best of the best: THE BEST romantic scene ever was William Holden and Kim Novac dancing in PICNIC. The music, the come-here stares, hands down the all time winner. Holden and Novac at their best. Judge for your self. Take a look. Type in PICNIC, check out the clip. If that don't warm your blood THEN YOU ARE DEAD. I give it an OSCAR for best romantic scene. Swedish director INGMAR BERGMAN, good choice, ML. His films a must see.

Mary Lois said...

Funny, I would have thought Slezak would vote for On the Waterfront, but apparently he's a Kim Novak-Bill Holden fan (and anything done by the Brits! For love scenes, or turn-on scenes anyway, I still vote for Burt Lancaster kissing Deborah Kerr with the waves washing over them in From Here To Eternity. And the best all-out sex scene in any movie was between Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin in The Big Easy.

Hoboken Kid said...

The reason On the Waterfront you would have thought was my favorite, IT WAS MADE IN HOBOKEN--I watched it get made and most of my friends were in it. In real life TERRY MALLOY would have got whacked. He was a rat. The mob back then, they were no boy scouts. Nice guys they were, but ya did not rat them out. Great movie to watch. LANCASTER AND KERR, sexy? I did not see that. My thoughts were: the water was cold, slimy seaweed, waves knocking you over, sand in your bathing suit and hers...passion slowly fading. That salty kiss...TOOOY.

NOW the Picnic clip. Novak and Holden. That was a winner.

We all see things in a different way (mind over matter--if you don't mind it does not matter) Movie favorites, we all have them.

Nan said...

A lot of food for thought here. Definitely Groundhog Day. There's hardly a movie I've watched more times with such pleasure. I think it is brilliant. So, there you see what a lowbrow I really am! :<) I'm going to think about this top ten biz, and see if I can come up with a list. My list would be very personal and not at all what critics would agree with, I'm sure.

Mary Lois said...

Don't think you could call Groundhog Day lowbrow, Nan; it is discussed as the ultimate existential movie of all time. I just didn't have room for it on my list, but I did love it too. I could have bumped something, but then I couldn't decide what.

There'll be more discussion, including a post on unforgettable scenes in forgettable movies. This is fun!

Steve said...

Never seen it myself, but I recall hearing a recent news story having to do with the exceptional resonance that Groundhog Day has with Buddhists. Something to do with gradual awareness and improvement as I recall.

Mary Lois said...

In a 3 hour C-Span2 book interview, libertarian and co-author of the controversial The Bell Curve and other intellectual tomes, Charles Murray was asked what he thought would be the remembered movie of our times. He indicated that while most people see Groundhog Day as being funny, most do not get the profound moral message. He recommended we all rewatch it, have our laughs, but think about the message as well.

Hoboken Kid said...

the movie Groundhog did have a message that was overlooked.

Come to think of it we all at one time had a day like that in our lives...dayshavoo.

Movies that sent a message...I'm sure there was other movies like it but can't think of any at the moment. But I'm sure there was. I'll give Groundhog Day 5 STARS ...the movie is worth another look.