My Personal Top 10 Films of All Time (As Of 2012)
This post was originally published on May 8, 2012 on my old blog at keithcalder.com. I will probably update this list in 2022 after the next Sight and Sound poll. I think it will be a very different list by then.
My friend Cole Abaius from Film School Rejects asked me to participate in an experiment to make an alternative to the canonical Sight & Sound Greatest Films list. The request was simple: to provide my “Top Ten Movies Of All Time, ranked.” He then compiled all the entries into this master list.
At first I thought this would be a fun diversion, but it turned out to be incredibly stressful. Who am I to not include a single Stanley Kubrick or Akira Kurosawa film on my Top 10 list? Have I betrayed my beloved Face/Off by not including it? Am I really so anglo-centric that I can't find room for foreign language masterpieces? At the end of the day, I'm upset at myself for not finding a way to put at least 100 movies on my top 10 list. The entire idea of a top 10 list is a bit wonky to me, as I believe it's impossible to rank and organize the impact and quality of different works of art, but I think a finished list can still provide a helpful guide to other film explorers and it can be an interesting insight into the mind of the list-maker. So here we go…
THE RULES I am using a few simple self-imposed rules to narrow down the playing field:
- Only one film per director.
- Only films I have seen (obviously).
- Only films I love personally.
- Only films that I consider to be of exceptionally high quality.
- Only films that I think have had an impact on the overall path of filmmaking.
1) THE GRADUATE (1967) This is personally my favorite film of all time, and I also consider it to be one of the finest achievements in the craft of filmmaking across almost all departments. So you shouldn't be surprised to find it at the top of my list. I could spend my entire life studying The Graduate, and I still would still be awestruck by its excellence. It was a big wake-up call to the American film industry, both creatively and commercially. The Graduate sets the stage for the 1970s in its visual style, editing, casting, and through the use of non-diegetic popular music. I honestly think if this movie were released today, it would set off a creative revolution all over again. The film still plays fresh and inventive, even though it has been copied so many times over the years. It's also easy to forget how commercially successful this film was. What was essentially a low-budget independent film grossed over $100m in 1967, which would be over $650m in 2012 dollars.
2) CASABLANCA (1942) This movie could be number one if it were in color. Just kidding. It would also have to star Dustin Hoffman.
3) LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) LOA isn't just an epic film; it is the epic film. The scope of this production is jaw-dropping, and it has to be seen projected in 70mm at a good theater to truly appreciate the achievement. And when you pick your jaw up off the floor, remember the most incredible thing: Lawrence of Arabia is an independent film.
4) RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) Just thinking about this movie makes me want to watch it right now.
5) STAR WARS (1977) It's hard for me to figure out how to approach Star Wars. I grew up watching it on a crappy VHS on a crappy television, and yet it exists in my mind's eye not as a noisy tiny image, and not as a beautifully projected film. It exists as a memory as real as anything else from my life. I feel like I've been there, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and George Lucas's film just reminded me of those days. Everything post-1977 aside, Star Wars used the creative technology of film to build a powerful global shared myth. It managed to combine a global distribution system with a singular piece of narrative art to do something almost overnight that historically had taken generations. Our Greek gods, our Knights of the Round Table, our fairy tales are Star Wars and the Marvel and DC heroes. Star Wars shook the world, and I think people dismiss its huge power too easily when they use the critical tools you would apply to fiction with more traditional goals.
6) CHINATOWN (1974) You can bring back the critical tools you apply to fiction with more traditional goals. Onions watch Chinatown to learn how to have layers.
7) THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) I love musicals, and The Sound of Music is my favorite film musical of all time. On top of that, I think the film is incredibly well made even beyond just the music. Some obvious standout aspects being Ernest Lehman's screenplay adaptation and Ted McCord's remarkable cinematography. Plus it makes me smile and want to be a better person.
8) OLDBOY (2003) Of all the films on my list, I suspect this is the one I have ranked too low. Oldboy is a dirty miracle. It lies waiting in the dark crevices and alleys of my mind. The parts of my mind that make me uncomfortable standing on a tall building not because I'm afraid I might fall but because I'm afraid I might push the person standing next to me. Of course, the good parts of my mind are filled with The Sound of Music so I just end up singing instead.
9) THE FLY (1986) That's right. I think that a remake is one of the ten best films of all time. For me, The Fly is the ultimate horror film. It does what only true horror can do, and makes you realize there truly are fates worse than death. And it does it through the framework of a heartbreakingly real tragic love story.
10) TOY STORY (1995) This is the movie that set the bar for feature-length CG-animation, and it's the film that launched Pixar. Those two things alone warrant giving the film major consideration just for historical impact, but beyond that Toy Story is a damn good movie. A filmmaking friend of mine says that the best movies are ones where it feels like the medium of film was invented just to make this movie. Well in the case of Toy Story it's actually true.
So that's my list. At least, that's my list today. I'm sure if you asked me tomorrow most of the films would be different. And I'm sure if you asked me the next day, they'd change all over again. But for now here's a snapshot of what I consider to be celluloid greatness. If you disagree, and I'm sure you do, feel free to create your own list or drop me a line on Twitter @keithcalder.
For the curious, here is my list of honorable mentions in alphabetical order…
- About A Boy
- All That Jazz
- Annie Hall
- Back To The Future
- The Battle Of Algiers
- A Better Tomorrow
- Bottle Rocket
- A Clockwork Orange
- The Conformist
- The Conversation
- Cool Hand Luke
- Die Hard
- Dirty Dancing
- The Empire Strikes Back
- Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
- The Godfather Part 2
- Groundhog Day
- A Hard Day’s Night
- Hoop Dreams
- Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom
- Infernal Affairs
- Inglourious Basterds
- It Happened One Night
- Jerry Maguire
- Jurassic Park
- Kill Bill: Volume 1
- The Killer
- Mary Poppins
- The Matrix
- Monty Python And The Holy Grail
- My Neighbor Totoro
- Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
- Pulp Fiction
- The Road Warrior
- Romancing The Stone
- Silence Of The Lambs
- The Sixth Sense
- Strangers On A Train
- Straw Dogs
- Strictly Ballroom
- Sullivan’s Travels
- Sunset Blvd.
- There Will Be Blood
- The Thing
- To Be Or Not To Be
- To Kill A Mockingbird
- To Live
- When Harry Met Sally