POSTED April 16 2012

The 10 Best Movies of All Time? What’s on Your List?

Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast

Lists, lists, so many lists. Best rookie features, greatest last films, most inspirational, scariest, funniest. On its 60th anniversary of compiling the Greatest Movies Ever Made, Sight and Sound magazine is soliciting nominations for the Ten Best movies ever. How would you approach the question? Almost inevitably Citizen Kane tops the list.

If you define “greatest” as “most influential,”  then yes, Citizen Kane. Its deep-focus cinematography and multi-perspective narrative are hugely influential. But just because Saw has influenced a generation of torture-porn films, I wouldn’t put it on my ballot. A best-ever film needs something more than influence. It needs universality. Staying power. Freshness. (By those criteria, yes, Citizen Kane.) It needs to ravish the viewer visually, narratively, emotionally.

With these criteria in mind, I meditated for five minutes. These are the first ten films  that popped in my head:

Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, which introduced the grammar (not to mention the hero-worship) of the sports movie.

Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete , a most primal and lyrical telling of an enduring fairy tale.

Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, which employed four different styles of filmmaking techniques to suggest symphony and coda of an extraordinary life.

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, a timeless allegory of good, evil and urban planning.

Stanley Donen’s Singing in the Rain, pure happiness.

Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, action wedded to emotion.

Carol Reed’s The Third Man,  breathtaking moral thriller.

Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, portrait of a woman in real time.

Steven Spielberg’s E.T., an ode to wonder and connectedness.

Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr., a movie about the magic and possibilities of movies.

No Citizen Kane. No The Godfather. No Vertigo. No The Seven Samurai. No Pixar. No worries.

Which criteria would you use? Which movies would be on yours?



  1. Nicely, nicely done. I’ll need to give this some thought (meditation). Curtis

  2. Gary says:

    My criteria is a film that you see something new in every time you watch it.

    VERTIGO tops my list.
    BARRY LYNDON would be on it, too.
    TAXI DRIVER, probably.
    CHINATOWN perhaps.
    8 1/2, definitely

  3. Fun, but difficult to think about this, but in no merit order:

    Dr. Strangelove
    The Third Man
    The 39 Steps
    Rules of the Game
    Last Year At Marienbad
    Veronica Voss
    Bridge On The River Kwai
    The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
    The Kid

    That being said, I think some special recognition needs to be accorded Peter Jackson, who has made brilliant features (Heavenly Creatures is always amazing; so, more unexpectedly, is The Frighteners) and actually successfully — very successfully — filmed The Lord of the Rings, a seemingly impossible achievement.


  4. David Cohen says:

    In chronological order, more or less, 10 smart films that reward repeated viewings:
    Our Hospitality (Buster Keaton)
    M (Fritz Lang)
    Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir)
    His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks)
    Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
    The Searchers (John Ford)
    Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati)
    High and Low (Akira Kurosawa)
    The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola)
    Annie Hall (Woody Allen)
    … love to find room for Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott …

  5. Alexia H says:

    I still remember sitting in the theater with my parents crying like the world was ending when E.T. dies. I was furious when I saw (and in some ways still would) “the evil scientists” kill E. T. Grown up now I know I can still enjoy the films of my youth with just as much passion. My friend and colleague who works with me at Dish comes over once a week for a movie night and we have a blast. I love having a Blockbuster @Home subscription due to the huge collection of older movies that we can choose from and stream right to my huge HD TV. We were talking about the cute little guy not too long ago, so I know what we’ll be watching.

  6. owen joyner says:

    1- five easy pieces – refreshing – anti-establishment doesnt require hippie clothes- i do realize now he was a jerk

    2- the third man – atmosphere so thick it requires silverware

    3- lover come back – just funny, funny, funny

    4- knife in the water – most sensual movie involving H20

    5- chinatown – you make great movies Mr P – just stay away from my daughter …

    6- hard days night – can you imagine something this good with the back street boys? irrefutable proof that culture is in steep decline

    7- dr zhivago – the epic that led to four russian history courses in college

    8- blow up – pregnant with meaninglessness but very cool – killer music

    9 – becket – inspirational – almost makes you want to become a priest – great actors (burton & o’toole nominated best actor 18 times and never won)

    10 – from russia with love – the reason they are still making bond movies today

    Nothing here before 1950 or after 1975. Makes me look…narrow ?

  7. Horse Badorties says:



    Double Indemnity


    La Strada

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