I love film, I really do. I love watching film, I love learning the history behind the film, I love hearing how a film broke ground during the time it came out, and I love learning the trivia that goes on during the making of a film. Film is my first love if you haven’t gathered and I wouldn’t change that day in 2001 when I woke up and decided I would begin my obsession.
When I first read my assignment I thought I’d be telling you all about my favorite films of all time. I had my list ready and set to go, and then I was punched in the face by Mark Johnson’s list and article. My heart started racing because my task just became tougher; at 21 years old I was forced to sit down and analyze all the films that have been released throughout the years, years I wasn’t even alive for.
Struggling with putting my list together I called the two people in my life who have seen more films than I and have constantly educated me on the background of film. I called my parents. It’s what any kid in my position would do. A single question to both my parents turned into a history lesson of film and a great reminder of the films I may have forgotten to include on the list.
So I got to thinking about my list. And out came twenty films that I consider so great, so groundbreaking. With so many films out there it’s so tough to sit down and pick just ten. It’s impossible to even pick the greatest film of all time because we all have a different understanding of what we consider to be great. I consider a great film to be a story that moves you and in some way changes your life. Whether it’s to point your life in a different direction, to teach a lesson or to even give you a greater appreciation of what film is really all about. A great film is what starts the revolution for more great films, if that makes any sense.
So after doing my research and spending hours watching and re-watching several films, here is my list of the ten best films of all time.
10. A Place in the Sun (Directed by George Stevens, 1951)
This story of doomed love centers on handsome Montgomery Clift’s George Eastman, a poor man looking to work in his rich uncles business. While working he is warned not to date any of the female employees, but can’t seem to resist Alice Tripp, (Shelley Winters) a whiney, simple and plain woman. As he begins to see her, Eastman is promoted and is then invited to his Uncles manor where he meets the beautiful Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). George falls in love with Angela at first sight and things become complicated when Angela and George fall into a deep and lustful love. When George learns that Alice is pregnant it makes it even harder for him to break off their relationship to enjoy the finer things in life. A Labor Day boating trip with Alice seals George’s fate and at that moment his life is changed.
Nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning six, this film to me is one of the best doomed love stories of all time. I appreciate a film in which two people end up together, but a film where everything stops two people from being together just keeps my attention even more so. The tragic ending is more than deserved for such a slimy, shallow character as George Eastman. He was satisfied with his lower class life until he experienced being around a wealthy society.
A Place in the Sun is well acted, well directed by George Stevens and its cinematography is pretty great. Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor carry the film with such brilliance and desire, but it’s Shelly Winters who is stunning as the pathetic Alice Tripp. Her want and need to hold George in her possession is sad, yet you understand her insecurities especially when she realizes her competition is played by Elizabeth Taylor. I watched this film for the first time in film class and absolutely fell in love with it, leaving it at number ten of the greatest films ever made.
9. Jaws (Directed by Steven Spielberg, 1975)
One of the great thrillers in cinematic history teaches you just one thing; Stay out of the water. That’s how I felt after I saw this movie for the first time at a young age. To this day you will never see me go in any form of water. Maybe the pool but as long as it’s mine, that’s ok, I know for sure there aren’t any sharks in there. But the one thing that made Jaws so scary wasn’t the shark, but the amazing score by John Williams. Two tones got audiences heart racing as the anticipation of a shark attack was close by.
Winning three Academy Awards, Jaws tells the story of a great white shark that begins to stir up trouble in the small community of Amity. In an effort to put the shark attacks to rest, police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), marine scientist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and an unpleasant fisherman (Robert Shaw) head out onto the water in a boat that we learn isn’t big enough.
Every time I would sit down to watch Jaws with my family (because whenever they saw it on television we would watch it) my parents would tell me the stories of when they first saw Jaws in theaters and how terrified they were. Just like me, to this day, my mother still doesn’t go in the water. They always explained to me the impact Jaws had on audiences and how terrified they were. People in the audience would cringe in there seat, they would scream and cover their eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a theater where I’ve seen such a reaction. This is a film that was scary when it came out and has yet to lose its terrifying grip.
With so many complications involving the shark, Jaws is one of Steven Spielberg’s finest pieces of work and the movie that catapulted his career. He makes the movie horrifying without being absurd and gets the best performances from his actors. This thrilling piece of work lands at number nine on my list of the best films of all time.
8. Yankee Doodle Dandy (Directed by Michael Curtiz, 1942)
My fellow writers have had some of the greatest musicals appear on their lists, including The Sound of Music and Singin’ in the Rain. While I find both movies brilliant, I have found Yankee Doodle Dandy to be the top musical in my world. I almost chose Singin’ in the Rain to represent my great musical movie choice but what changed my mind is my love for James Cagney. James Cagney was one of the greatest gangster actors to ever live, but it was his performance as George M. Cohan that won him is only Academy Award for Best Actor.
If you know me then you know that I’m a sucker for a great musical. During my film classes in school I had studied James Cagney’s work as a gangster actor and quite literally fell in love with him. I told my mom all about the movies we were watching with him and one night Yankee Doodle Dandy was on television and she advised that I watch it to understand a different side to Cagney. And boy did I fall even more in love with this multi-talented actor.
Yankee Doodle Dandy tells the story of George M. Cohan (Cagney) and the way he changed the United States with musicals he would produce, direct, write and star in, and all of the famous songs he composed throughout the years. Cohan brought patriotism alive during a time of war with his inspirational songs that ultimately led him to receiving a medal from the president for his contributions to the United States.
Yankee Doodle Dandy is one of the most positive and patriotic movies ever made. You can’t help but feel pride and joy when you hear Cagney deliver some of Cohan’s most memorable hits. For those who will end up seeing this movie one day, Cagney is absolutely brilliant as Cohan, his singing and dancing are mesmerizing, so to the point that you’re almost taken aback at the fact that this well-known tough guy knows how to move his feet so well. One of Cagney’s best scenes in the film is the finale. Cohan receives his medal from the president and begins to walk down a staircase that turns into a tap. I always watch that scene over and over again in amazement that Cagney was able to tap down the stairs, never looking once. He then walks outside to see a parade of soldiers marching too “Over There”. He joins the march with pride and a solider looks over to him and questions that he doesn’t know that song and is the reason he isn’t singing. With a tear in his eye he begins to belt out the lyrics and the movie ends.
Yankee Doodle Dandy is a patriotic masterpiece that is number eight on my list of the best films of all time.
7. Double Indemnity (Directed by Billy Wilder, 1944)
One of the best film noirs of all time, Double Indemnity tells the story of an insurance salesman, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) who gets caught up in an affair with a devious woman Phyllis Dietrichson, (Barbara Stanwyck) that eventually leads to an insurance fraud scheme involving the murder of Phyllis’ husband. In the meantime, Walter deceives his friend and boss Barton Keyes, (Edward G. Robinson) to help this woman he barely knows.
What makes this film so amazing is the performance by Barbara Stanwyck. Her performance as Phyllis is so cold and ruthless. She’ll use her seductiveness and sexual prowess to manipulate people into doing exactly what she wants so she can gain off it. She will lure a man into anything she wants without any regard to what it will do to their life. Of course, Fred MacMurray’s narration throughout the film, which is really a confession to his pal Keyes, makes this film even more enticing. He delivers his lines with such pain and guilt that you almost feel bad that the guy was stupid enough to fall for Phyllis’ scheme. George M. Robinson spices the film up even more when he begins to investigate the death of Phyllis’ husband. As Keyes gets closer to finding out the truth, Walter’s guilt completely takes over which causes him to fall apart.
This is a great story of manipulation, greed and tragedy, a classic film noir. With a great story, this perfect cast carried the film and made it into a timeless classic.
6. The Wizard of Oz (Directed by Victor Fleming, 1939)
The Wizard of Oz was always that movie as a little kid I remember watching constantly. I always remember being simply amazed that after Dorothy hit the ground in her house she opened the door to such vibrant color. It was like a wonderland with sort of scary looking dwarfs and a good witch. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the plot of The Wizard of Oz or even begin to explain why the film is a masterpiece and why at the time it was released it had such a big impact on film. Aside from the film being visually spectacular, the story of Oz showed us that all these things we desire, whether it be a heart, a brain or courage, it’s inside of us.
The Wizard of Oz is one of those films that is seen by almost everybody. This film has stuck with audiences for so long because it brings out the imagination of our inner child. I think that’s why as a kid I was always so fascinated with this story. Nobody will ever forget the amazing performance given by a young Judy Garland. When we hear the name Dorothy we automatically cut right to Oz. When we hear someone utter the word lion we right away go, “lions and tigers and bears, oh my.” When we think of flying monkey’s we think of Oz. When we think of the evilest character ever portrayed in film we think of the wicked witch of the west. And when we see some hot red shoes in the store we think of those sparkly shoes that Dorothy had to tap together just to get home.
The Wizard of Oz is a story about growing up and learning about the love, friendships and evil in life in such a beautiful, imaginative yet scary world. As time goes one, we will always look back to The Wizard of Oz as our place to take a break from the lives we live.
5. Psycho (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
Psycho was the first film of its kind to display the horrifying nature of a serial killer. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is so desperate to marry her lover Sam (John Gavin) that she steals $40,000 that was entrusted to her by her boss. Marion packs up and leaves town to meet Sam, but after a long and tiring drive she pulls off the main highway into The Bates Motel. When Marion seeks a room in the motel she is introduced to Norman (Anthony Perkins), a quiet man who runs the motel but seems to be controlled by his mother. When Marion appears to be missing, Sam and Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) begin to investigate the Bates Motel to find out what happened.
Psycho is the greatest horror film ever made. Coming up with this list I knew I wanted a Hitchcock film to be represented, but of course with so many to choose I went with the one that scared me the most. The first time I watched Psycho, which wasn’t too long ago, I was frightened. I was never scared like this when I watched any other Hitchcock masterpiece. Now a days you don’t get horror films like this. You don’t get films that are purely based on horror; we have films that are surrounded by grotesque sequences in order to get a reaction.
Before Psycho, the horror industry was surrounded with zombies, monsters and vampires killing simply because that’s what they do. With Psycho you had a psychologically ill man who killed simply because he wanted to. Alfred Hitchcock proved with Psycho that he truly is the master of suspense.
4. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Directed by George Lucas, 1977)
I feel as though this film really doesn’t need any description. Star Wars is the movie that catapulted the Science Fiction genre to a whole new world. My personal favorite in the Star Wars series happens to be The Empire Strikes Back, and while I wanted to include it on this list, it was Star Wars: A New Hope that made a huge impact on audiences and started it all.
I remember the first time I ever sat down to watch the Star Wars series. It was truly an experience and continues to be every chance I sit down and watch those amazing films. I can’t imagine being one of those audience members, never having seen any special effects like the epic light speed scene, and being blown away. The closest I will ever get to that experience is hearing my parents talk about it and watching the many Star Wars related episodes on That 70s Show.
While Lucas released just bad movies to represent the first three chapters of the Star Wars franchise, its episodes four, five and six that will go down in history as being the greatest films of all time. A New Hope showed us a world we had never seen before and Lucas so brilliantly made movie magic.
3. The Godfather (Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
“Never go against the family.” I have heard my father say that quote my whole life. It’s amazing how men look towards The Godfather as being the sort of bible for how a family should be and the respect that is deserved when you do so much for your family. The Godfather really is about, family, loyalty, greed, and relationships. The Godfather is one of the best acted films of all time, including memorable performances from Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and James Caan. From the direction, to the storyline, to the performances and the score, The Godfather will simply go down in history as one of the greatest. This film speaks for itself. Now stroke your face and talk amongst yourselves in Godfather quotes to really feel the greatness.
2. The Best Years of Our Lives (Directed by William Wyler, 1946)
This Academy Award winner for Best Picture tells the story of three men returning home from World War II only to realize that the lives they left aren’t the same anymore. Al Stephenson (Fredrich March), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) and Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) are returning to their hometown with excitement and fear of what is to come in their lives.
After being gone for years fighting in the war, Al returns home to his wife Milly (Myrna Loy) of twenty years and his two children. Al returns to the bank he used to work at and is in charge of giving out small loans to those who need it. While re-adjusting, he seeks alcohol to help make things easier.
Fred Derry returns home to his wife Marie, (Virginia Mayo) who he only knew for twenty days before he went to war. While Fred was gone, Marie enjoyed the increased pay the military gave her, but when he returns home and is stuck working an ordinary job, she begins to see that the good life is no longer good. With Fred’s re-adjustment to society he begins to fall into a depression when he realizes that nobody will hire him for a job when his only experience is military work. His marriage begins to fall apart when Marie is too selfish to care for him and when he begins to fall for Al’s caring and passionate daughter.
Homer Parish had both hands blown up in the war and is fearful to come home and have his family and his girl succumb to the harsh reality of his new life with hooks for hands. He is afraid his girl Wilma will not accept him or want to spend her life with him because of his hooks, and begins to push her away even when she makes it clear that the hooks don’t matter.
While all three men adjust to their lives, they find comfort in each other whether it is talking or drinking, it makes the adjustment so much easier for them.
What makes this film great is that it’s true. The issues that these three men face and have to constantly deal with throughout the film are situations that real life people have to face when returning home from war. I think this film is truly symbolic to a time we’re in now. So many people in the entertainment industry try to depict war in every way possible, but what this movie did was depict what happens when it’s all said and done and it’s time to come home. Movies that are made now try to show a happy ending, that everything is perfect when someone returns home from war and it’s not like that at all. There are so many factors and problems that go into what should be a thrilling experience, but this film depicts all of the complications with such honesty. The Best Years of Our Lives isn’t afraid to tell the truth or show the harsh reality of what happens during and after war.
I commend this film for what it does, and I consider it one of the best films of all time simply because it’s honest. And those who have never seen this movie should change that. It’s a powerful, brave and beautiful film.
1. City Lights (Directed by Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
I believe that if we’re really going to talk about the best films of all time that we mention one of the best filmmakers of all time, Charles Chaplin. This amazing man would write, direct, star, produce and score his films. His films were his. For me Charlie Chaplin changed the way I look at cinema, he showed me what true physical comedy really is, he showed me that you don’t need crude jokes to laugh hysterically and he proved that with no words you can react in such a profound way it’s beautiful.
To neglect the silent era on a best list is foolish to me. Why neglect the start of it all. When I was studying film I had watched plenty of Buster Keaton’s films, but never had I seen a Chaplin film. When I was shown my first Chaplin film, City Lights, I fell in love. I fell so much in love that I went home and tried to find every Chaplin film, and I watched them. I laughed during Modern Times, I cried during The Kid, I embraced The Gold Rush and I was moved by The Great Dictator. But in the end I loved them all. So choosing a Chaplin film to represent the top spot was tough for me. I kept going back and forth between City Lights and The Kid but it was City Lights that I decided to honor because it is one of the greatest love stories of all time, on top of that, the situations that The Tramp gets himself into are ridiculously amusing and wacky.
Charlie Chaplin had such an amazing sense of comedy and heart. While we have seen the tramp in countless other films, City Lights is the film where we see him at his most romantic and funniest state. One of the best scenes in the film is Chaplin’s famous boxing scene where his choreography is top notch. That scene has my dying laughing every time I watch it. His ridiculous scenes with his drunken wealthy “friend” are the best in any movie he’s ever done. Chaplin takes this movie a bit more seriously than his previous and the effort he puts in to make a genuine comedy with romance is wonderful.
City Lights is a simple story about how a Tramp falls in love with a beautiful blind flower girl. When her family falls into some financial trouble, the tramp’s unconventional friendship with a wealthy man allows him to help her in her time of need. The story is truly about two loners who find each other and want to make each other happy. If you watch this film and appreciate it for all it has to give, you’ll find it is one of the most charming movies ever made. And that’s why I’ve decided to honor Chaplin in making City Lights my number one film of all time.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed my list and hopefully we’ll meet again soon when we’re assigned to make another top ten list.
Tags: City Lights, Jaws, Psycho, Star Wars, Ten best films ever made, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Godfather, The Wizard of Oz, Top Ten