10. (t) City Lights (1931)
A brilliant comedy that features some truly phenomenal silent film acting, genius slapstick, smart social commentary, and perhaps the most beautiful and touching love story ever committed to film.
10. (t) Tokyo Story (1953)
A somber family drama about aging, death, and loss from Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. It portrays the intricacies of the modern family dynamic, from the adult children living in the city who have grown distant from their parents, to the close relationship that forms between non-blood relations when they’ve shared a lost loved-one. It is full of the beautiful moments and bitter truths that are inherent in family life.
9. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
One of the funniest films, and certainly the greatest musical, ever made. The storyline, the acting, the dialogue, the songs, and the dance routines are all brilliant. And they don’t come much hotter than Cyd Charisse in that short black hair and green dress from the Broadway Melody scene. Wowzers.
8. The Searchers (1956)
Don’t say John Wayne can’t act, because he’s goddamn exceptional here as the obsessive, racist, and violent uncle of a young girl captured by Indians. He pursues her and her captors for years out of both love (for the girl, yes, but mostly for her mother), vengeance, and a blinding hatred for Indians (and for the girl when she becomes one of them). It is a Western, yes, but it is also an action film, a revenge film, and a character study. It’s also John Ford’s best film, and that says a lot.
7. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Best. Western. Ever. Everything about this movie is cool as fuck. From the casting of perennial good guy Henry Fonda as cold-blooded, child-killing outlaw Frank, to the looong, drawn-out Harmonica chords that mirror perfectly the massive widescreen shots and the slow-pacing that builds tension excruciatingly before exploding in a sudden flurry of violence. Better than Leone’s other masterpiece.
6. Citizen Kane (1941)
If not the greatest film ever made (though it’s hard to argue it isn’t), it’s certainly the most influential. I can think of at least ten times The Simpsons have referenced it, and that in itself is a remarkable achievement. It’s narrative structure, visual style, and editing techniques changed the way films are made and heavily influenced the film noir genre that emerged in the years to follow.
5. The Rules of the Game (1939)
Renoir’s masterly social satire and comedy of manners. The pall of World War II looms heavily over the film and yet is never once mentioned. A darkly comic and cuttingly insightful look at the upper crust of French society, the servant class that live with and work for them, and the professional and romantic interactions both within and between the two social classes. Renoir’s charm on camera is only matched by his genius behind it.
4. Vertigo (1958)
Hitchcock’s psychological thriller about a man, haunted by guilt and loss, and his unhealthy love affair with a woman who was (in a way) an accomplice in the murder of the woman he loved, and his compulsion to remake his new love in the image of the woman he lost. Pure Hitchcock. Pure genius.
3. Seven Samurai (1954)
An action film with emotional depth, some excellent acting, and strong characterization; a remarkable accomplishment which Kurosawa nonetheless made seem commonplace over the course of his illustrious career. This is also perhaps the earliest, and best, example of the cinematic “assembling of a team” which has influenced films as diverse as The Dirty Dozen and Ocean’s Eleven.
2. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The most epic fucking movie of all time. Massive battles, explosions, motorcycle crashes, wide wide wide shots of desert, British accents, and Omar Sharif! What more could you want in a movie. David Lean did big better than anybody, and this one’s his biggest.
1. The Third Man (1949)
Written by Graham Greene, directed by Carol Reed, starring Orson Welles; this is a recipe for greatness. The story is enthralling and the acting excellent, especially Welles who gives perhaps his best performance as the smug, unconscionable, and ruthless Harry Lime who is nevertheless both utterly fascinating and impossible not to like. The film boasts breathtaking black and white cinematography. You could take just about any given frame of the film, blow it up and hang it up in an art gallery; the photography is absolutely phenomenal. The score is unlike any other before or since, and is one of the best you’ll ever hear; composed entirely of music from a zither, it is uptempo and damn near cheerful, completely at odds with the dour subject matter of the film, and yet it somehow fits perfectly (much like the infamous “Singin’ in the Rain” sequence from A Clockwork Orange), and it’s impossible to imagine the film with a more traditional score. It also features one of the greatest character introductions in cinematic history (when Harry Lime finally turns up), an incredible chase sequence through the sewers of Vienna, and, in my mind, the greatest ending ever. What else is there to say, it’s the best film ever made.