Recently, I was asked by my friend what I considered to be the greatest movies of all time. He wanted me to do a top ten. I like to think I’m pretty well versed in film and film history — I mean, my esteemed editors do let me post large quantities of words on them, so I hope I am — but it’s honestly something that I have never considered. I’ve done top ten lists by decade (best movies of the nineties, eighties, seventies, etc.), but I realized that cutting these lists down to a top ten of all time would be a different beast entirely.
And I realized soon that I was going about it the wrong way. Sure, I could name the best movies of all time in terms of classic guidelines, but that would lead to the most generic and conforming list ever. I can pick “Citizen Kane,” “Casablanca” and “The Godfather” all day and have no regrets about it, but so can any other sop with a blank page and a passing familiarity with great motion pictures.
Instead, I decided to pick my top ten based on what I find to be the most enjoyable films that I’ve ever seen. By enjoyable, I mean that these are the movies that I can sit down and watch any day of the week, any time of the day, and be completely satisfied. Enjoyable movies can be stuff as gut wrenching and emotionally intense as “There Will Be Blood,” or as light as “Spaceballs.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be psychologically reassuring to be enjoyable. If that’s the case, I’d watch “Law and Order” or “CSI” all day and be happy that the good guys always win. I’m not, though, and no disrespect to those shows. They’re damn watchable.
None of the above movies made it on the list, though. My list is, as mentioned, an honest account of the most enjoyable movies that I’ve ever seen. I don’t see why I should put “Citizen Kane” above anything on my list. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it didn’t speak to me and get me in the same way that these other movies did. The impact of the films that I’ve chosen is such that I think about them way, way, way more than the latest indie drama or studio favorite. I don’t know why. Some of the movies aren’t the best reviewed, but they all say something fundamental about the human experience that I felt compelled to choose them. I can say with all of them that my life would be much worse without them.
So, without further ado and in no particular order, my top ten is: “Heat,” “Children of Men,” “Time Bandits,” “Punch Drunk Love,” “Independence Day,” “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control”, “The Searchers,” “The Mask of Zorro,” “Bowling for Columbine” and “Die Hard 2.”
Surprising? Maybe. I don’t know. The only movie on there that is traditionally considered a masterpiece is probably “The Searchers.” “Punch Drunk Love,” “Children of Men” and “Bowling For Columbine” are generally considered a bit less than masterpieces but still very good movies. Then you got stuff like “The Mask of Zorro”, “Independence Day” and “Die Hard 2,” which are pure crowd pleasing summer movies. And I got to be honest, I love crowd pleasing summer movies. Give me one of them over any Godard film any day of the week. The weird ones are “Time Bandits” and “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control,” but I think those movies would be much more regarded in our cultural consciousness if they were more popular. Go see them if you can. They’re really something.
So, that’s it, that’s what I got. Everyone has a unique taste when it comes to movies, and we shouldn’t feel like we have to name the traditional classics when we’re talking about the best movies of all time. Put yourself out there. You don’t have to agree with anyone about this. Art is subjective. If you have movies that you can watch over and over and over, don’t be shy about calling them great. Isn’t that what we watch them for?