30 Philadelphia—It’s less about AIDS and more of an exploration in prejudice. It’s got more to it’s core than Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? And a fuller cast than Lilies of the Field (which I, like Brent, adore). What’s more it has the modern Poitier (Washington) the modern Tracy (Hanks) and the friggin’ man: Jason Robards.
29 Schindler’s List—What sets this move apart from other World War II chronicles is the simplicity of it all. Spielberg is great at showing the immediacy and humanity of one of the most hellish blots on the soul of man kind. The little slap of the red dress amidst all the dismal black and white make it even more real than you can imagine.
28 Spinal Tap—I know it’s only rock and roll but I like it. Brent goes for A Mighty Wind but the nueftet and the rest of the folkies have in numbers the rockers more than make up for in depth (as well as volume and punctuality). As this is the first real major mockumentary it gets some extra points for innovation.
27 High Noon—Unlike Brent, I love a good Western, especially when it has a flawed hero that turns the traditional idolatry of Hollywood into the blunt Western “I’m-great-yeah-but-I’m-also-kind-of-messed-up,-so-don’t-get-all-teary-on-me.” When the hero’s flaw is that he’s a work-a-holic, it makes it all the more accessible. And the clever, real time shooting of the movie (1 hour, 40 minutes from start to showdown) make it even more enjoyable
26 To Kill A Mockingbird—Of all the classic books transferred onto film, this one actually becomes a classic in it’s own right. Every student who reads it starts to wonder what kind of man Atticus Finch is and Gregory Peck embodies the soul of one of literature’s finest heroes. (He probably shouldn’t have beaten out Peter O’Toole for the best actor Oscar…but it’s a little late for that).
25 Patton—When a liberal, anti-war proponent like me is captivated and entranced by modern warfare and a modern warrior you know you’ve got something powerful. George C. Scott’s compulsive passion is a rarity in a biopic, neither idolizing nor knocking down the man, simply showing his humanity and leaving it to the audience to decide.
24 The Sting—Quite simply the gold standard for caper flicks (the Ocean’s 11 franchise still hasn’t snuck past it, despite the gltiz). The charm and poise of Newman and Redford with a gamut of twists so surprising that you never know what’s to be believed and what’s just deceiving you.
23 Million Dollar Baby—My vote for the best Eastwood movie in recent times, and far and away a better Boxing movie than any Rocky (which will somehow sneak on to AFI’s list again). It’s a study of the sport that actually explains why you do somethings and how training really works, and does more with the depth of an average boxer’s life (rub-down-whores and all) and the family you find doing what you love
22 Blazing Saddles—Silly and sophomoric at times, but by and large a supremely witty spoof on the Western (more on satire that starts Brent’s beloved Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright later). Brooks’ manic energy flows through the movie and the twittering Madeline Khan (and perhaps the funniest song ever on film) and cackling Harvey Korman (“That’s Hedley”) culminating in the ironic limo into the sunset; a perfect ending for a modern Western.
21 On the Waterfront—Everyone has heard the line, “I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” But few people actually know the context any more. But seeing Brando’s broken down palooka facing his brother makes an otherwise good drama (with a great supporting cast in Lee J. Cobb and Karl Malden) great.
20 Pulp Fiction—Uber-violent, uber-witty, uber-hip. Sometimes it feels like it’s almost too much, to surprising, to daring to be as good as it is. But the trio of excellent stories and charming ne’er-do-wells beautifully balances love and business, friendship and distrust, compassion and violence. Leaving you with as complete an exploration of the human side of the world’s seedy underbelly as you’ll ever see.
19 Annie Hall—Sweetness personified in Alvy Singer’s romance and loss in the Woody Allen film. It has some of the best moments in comedy, including flopping lobsters, out of body sexual experiences and trying to do cocaine with a cold. The love story is fun, but not half as fun and familiar as the longing.
18 Shakespeare in Love—Love and a bit with a dog, oh and brilliant Tom Stoppard dialogue, a cast that doesn’t have a weak link (which, when your cast includes Ben Affleck, is saying something) and a twist on old tales that turn your average Shakespeare class into a suddenly shocking discovery that he’s a man…who liked sex…a lot.
17 The Manchurian Candidate—The kind of thriller that leaves with a twist so remarkably heartbreaking that you forget how long it took you to get there. Forget the modern remake, it’s the brilliance of the original and the hilarity of the garden party scenes that leave you chilled to the bone and curious to examine the motivation of heroes.
16 Do the Right Thing—Spike’s finest hour. Flowing cinematography, fully incorporated music into a movie world (“Fight the Power” is this movie), a host of entertaining and captivating characters, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee in all their glory and an ending at once infuriating and frighteningly fair.
15 All About Eve—Manipulations, conniving, backstage back stabbing deceit. The kind of movie every actor loves. It’s less real than Guffman. But for sheer shock in terms of character development, writing and acting, it takes the cake.
14 North by Northwest—Adventure and intrigue set against a middle American backdrop. (Ask yourself, how often do you get a plane chase, gun fire, and explosions in a corn field?) I showed it to my 11th grade class yesterday and even without an introduction, even without any sense of Hitchcock, they were enthralled by the story, the script and the mystery of it all.
13 Fargo—It’s about so much more than the accent (though, for the record, the accents are pretty great). It’s that layer of Minnesota nice that permeates the movie, haunting the screen, the dinner tables, the hookers, the sheriffs. All this and two brilliant performances from Frances McDormand (a sublimely real modern heroine) and William H. Macy (the ultimate in sniveling villainy) help everyone in middle America know, big city crime isn’t as far away as you might think.
12 Young Frankenstein—Arguably the funniest, pure comedy ever. The gags come one after the other after the other, advancing the plot but barely giving you a moment to breathe. Like Blazing Saddles and Shaun of the Dead (I’ve not yet seen Hot Fuzz) it satirizes better than anything else because it actually loves the subject of its mockery. It doesn’t giggle at something that happened five minutes ago, it builds off of the brilliant work someone’s already done (in this case using the same set as Frank Whale’s classic.
11 Rear Window—The most gripping of all of Hitchcock’s movies because we, like Jimmy Stewart, are forced to watch, inert and incapable of changing the situation, but at the same time loving every minute of amateur sleuthing.
10 Hoop Dreams—Michael Moore has a career because this movie made documentaries money makers. But don't hold that against it. It made money and a point with much more class than Moore could ever hope to have. This is America. It’s not gun crazy, or morally deprived. It’s not charmingly intelligent or morbidly obese. It obsesses over things that don’t matter much, but aware of what can be better and what we can do to improve. I find something new to love every time I watch it, and no movie, none, holds me for three hours like this one does.
9 The Apartment—It’s a good comedy, yes, but it’s an even better commentary on sexual and business politics. It manages to captivate and entrance you through all of the witty Billy Wilder banter. Add to that a stellar cast (including the: never watch "My 3 Sons" again Fred McMurry) and a pitch-perfect performance by Jack Lemmon and you have an excellent movie.
8 Singin’ in the Rain—The ultimate in love letters to Hollywood, and the pinnacle of musicals in America. It has a great romance and remarkably catch songs, but more than that it has the archetype romantic comedy best body, and the funniest villainess on film. It’s hard living in India during Monsoon and not singing and softshoeing non-stop. Fortunately there are no walls to try and run up.
7 Citizen Kane—There’s a reason it’s at or near the top of every list in Christendom. It’s a great exercise in cinematography, and story telling as it chronicles the rise and fall of a man and more importantly the man’s ideals. Welles is superb, possessive, maniacal and sincerely committed to doing what he thinks is right.
6 Network—“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!” This is the movie that seems to always fade away in discussions of the best-of-the year (it lost to Rocky for God’s sake), or best-of-the-decade, or best-of-all-time. But it deserves to be here.It’s a brilliant cultural critique, and boasts great characters and a brilliant script that captures the lost “TV” generation in Faye Dunawaye’s beautiful, but dead, eyes.
5 Sunset Blvd.—Speaking of William Holden’s love interests, here his creepy (in the most captivating sense of the word) lover is Gloria Swanson who turns him into the most unlikely and unwilling gigolo. Swanson is a superb counterbalance to Holden’s passive acceptance of his role, careening wildly, she doesn’t really need Wilder’s script, after, all as she says: “we had faces!”
4 The Godfather II—It has more depth than the original, in terms of family history and a brilliant portrayal of the immigrant story (the coupling of DeNiro and Pacino as fathers lost in a world they didn’t create but must survive in, is especially moving). And though it adds a little too much to maintain the first film’s astounding focus, but it still holds the audience beautifully.
3 Raging Bull—The beauty of Scorcese’s best work is simply astounding. Gorgeous cinematography, beautiful black and white shots of home, love, and violence all set to the stirring strings of subtle melodies. And DeNiro’s humanity, so perfectly palpable on the screen, could be translated to the life story of anyone, it just happens to be LaMotta’s.
2 The Godfather—Quite simply great, and without any need to explain why. It’s a robust and fully developed family drama, leaving no doubt as to why modern writers and movie makers allude to it more often than Shakespeare and the Bible. Everyone has a moment that they suddenly realize how powerful it is. For me, it was watching James Caan get shot at the toll booth while my brother walked by, saw my mouth gaping and said: “told you so.”