10. Pulp Fiction (1994) - Quentin Tarantino
Some things will always amaze me regarding film. One is the fact that some people actually have lived their lives without having seen Star Wars, the other is people who hate Quentin Tarantino and particularly Pulp Fiction. I don't get it honestly, this film is as good as any from the last several decades. Thus is the price of fame, Tarantino has made a career out of his mashups of his influences that arguably his most wholly original work (this and the sadly neglected Jackie Brown) seem to be disregarded. That isn't to say that Pulp Fiction isn't highly praised it's just that with great fame comes a lot of hatred. People watch Tarantino movies and think they could make them which is one of the endearing things about them, but the truth is no one can, believe me. For the last twenty years people have been trying to be the next Tarantino and whether it's Doug Liman, Kevin Smith, Richard Kelly, or any number of others there really is something special with QT's work. Pulp Fiction I saw all the way back in the theater and so much of it went over my ten year old head, but since then I get a little more out of it. It took years before I started paying attention to the incredibly well orchestrated tracking shots and the sound design, but they're superb. It is the type of film that can win you over with it's never ending brilliant dialogue, but keep you enthralled on a subconscious level because it's an incredibly well made film from a director who clearly knows what he's doing. Roger Avery who co-wrote the film with Tarantino has often been neglected in it's praise but it makes me wonder if he Quentin shouldn't collaborate a little more often.
9. Tree of Life (2011) - Terrence Malick
For someone with a self diagnosed prejudice towards new movies it might seem mind boggling that a film less than two years old would make my top ten. Well that's just how damn good Tree of Life is. Words cannot express the feeling I had seeing this film in the theater. I was utterly blown away like no other film had ever done to me. I couldn't even believe what I was seeing, how anyone could have made a film so incredible, so beautiful, so mind expanding, so full of questions. This is the type of high end big budget art film that most self proclaimed auteurs dream about making. It is the most elliptical of Malick's films, which seem to have gotten progressively more abstract over the years. It seems more like a dream about childhood than a film about a domineering father. I almost don't want to call this a film, the level of artistry seems to demand a new word to describe it. I'm sure many of you have taken my recommendation to see it, and some of you probably were pretty damn impressed. For those of you that haven't, good god the time is now, I don't think there will ever be a better film made after this.
8. 8 ½ (1963) - Federico Fellini
For a long time now this has been my favorite foreign film. It really is a testament to how great Fellini was at his peak that he could deliver two "greatest ever" level of masterpieces in a row. This is the ultimate in semi-autobiographical surreal dream masterpieces about film making. Even though so much of the film is about what to make his next movie about, there really is nothing that ever gets done. A brilliant film with the ironic subject of a director who has no ideas, or at the very least can't articulate them. Countless directors have tried often in vain to fill Fellini's shoes or make their own 8 1/2, but well that's just part of what makes this film so damn good. Fellini takes his film from the real to the surreal within a scene and often it takes a minute or two to even realize we're in a flashback or complete fantasy. It's a film that keeps you guessing but never loses you.
7. Apocalypse Now (1979) - Francis Ford Coppola
It's nearly impossible to describe just how god damn brilliant this movie is. It takes it's story very loosely from Heart of Darkness, throws a little Vietnam in there, then veers into Aguirre territory before finally ending up in a strange surreal land where nothing really makes sense. This was another one of the "first" films I watched when my obsession began and I thought it was a pretty good war movie until all that weirdness at the end. Since then I think it's a pretty good war movie that becomes the greatest thing ever at the end. As soon as Dennis Hopper comes to greet them on their boat things take a brilliant turn for the strange. Sure the bizarreness begins to set in a little earlier, but something truly profound happens when they arrive on Kurtz' island. Marlon Brando for all his problems he caused during filming is absolutely brilliant. He embodies the mad man god who tosses pearls of wisdom at his subjects yet remains in the shadows often speaking in parables. Visually this is as good as any film has ever looked, yes courtesy of our old friend Vittorio Storaro who makes his third appearance on the list. It is a mind boggling mess of a movie that transcends the sum of it's parts. Simply put this is the type of film you respond to on an emotional level, a transcendental level, the kind you feel and experience. I could watch this a million times and never grow tired of it.
6. Star Wars/The Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi (1977/1980/1983) - George Lucas/Irvin Kershner/Richard Marquand
The greatest trilogy of all time still reigns mighty high on my list. I had a chance to revisit it before making this list and everything right about these films is essentially everything wrong with the pre-quels. I don't know what's going to happen with the next installments, but as a stand alone trilogy these three films set the standard that will never be equaled. Born out of the film school generation of directors with an ode to classic genre pictures, it far eclipses everything of it's kind. A wonderful universe of fully developed characters, interweaving plots, brilliant sound design, and an incredibly compelling overarching tale throughout. Not without a few bombshells these are the films I remember most growing up. They're taken for granted today mainly because people tend to forget how great they were. Everything has been absorbed by popular culture references and constant parodies and/or homages that it isn't until you watch the original trilogy (in the original theatrical edition) that you see just how special these movies are.
5. Persona (1966) - Ingmar Bergman
Of all the films I've watched again over the past decade none of them had quite the effect Persona did on me. When I first saw Persona I believe it was the third Ingmar Bergman film I had seen. After I watched every one of Bergman's available films I watched this one more time and I honestly thought this was one of the greatest films ever. I didn't even know it would top 8 1/2 on this list as my new favorite foreign language film but well I don't regret the change. This film might be better for people familiar with Bergman's work because although it might seem like just another Bergman film it's so much more. He outdid himself after taking a two year break from cinema which featured some very troubling personal issues. The result is on paper arguably his most simple film but there's so much going on. From the avant-garde deconstructive introduction to the ambiguous dream within the film that makes you question the very nature of existence. This is a film that will make your brain do some work but like the best films of this kind there aren't any right or wrong answers to the questions posed here, just brilliant movie making.
4. The Godfather/Godfather II (1972/1974) - Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Coppola only has two entries on this list but both have made the top ten. In fact the last time I did the list both of these were in my top ten as well, although one went up while another went down. The Godfather along with it's sequel are nearly impossible not to love. Sure there is a lot of information and like many films from the 70s these movies respect their audiences intelligence in a way few American movies do today. It took nearly three viewings of the first film and almost five of the second to really know all the who's who and what's what. Inexplicably I might actually think the sequel is superior which puts it on the very short list of greatest sequels ever. Either way taken as a complete saga it is the pinnacle of American storytelling and the high water mark of Hollywood's new renaissance in the 70s. Shot by the "lord of darkness" Gordon Willis and featuring a cast that would be enshrined in a screen actors hall of fame if such a thing ever existed.
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Stanley Kubrick
2001, just keeps getting better for me. Moving up ever so slightly from the last list it remains my favorite film of the 60s. It transcends the world of film to contemplate the very origin of our existence. Visually the film was instantly praised as one of the most groundbreaking films regarding special effects. The criticism then as well as now is often how cold and ineffectual it is, but that's one of the points to the film. It's more of a criticism of the future that Kubrick envisioned. It was interesting seeing how the real 2001 compared to his vision and certainly in terms of space exploration we're way behind but much of it has come to pass. The final sequence is pretty much my favorite thing ever in film, and the similarity at times to Tree of Life is one of the things that made that film so great to me. Still it remains the greatest film from the greatest director and who knows maybe one day it might climb even higher on this list.
2. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) - Lewis Milestone
All hail the new #2. Most of the films in the upper part of my list are pretty predictable honestly, but this is the ultimate personal favorite of mine. The reason for my obsession with this film is several fold. For starters I tend to be a little obsessed with WWI, which may actually be the result of this film more than anything. Then you take into account that the film was shot during that great and golden period of Hollywood between 1929-1934 before the production code was enforced. Then you factor in that this film has no soundtrack whatsoever. There is no glaring music to distract you or to tell you what to feel. Then you take into account that Lewis Milestone was arguably the most innovative director of his era outside of Abel Gance. He didn't let the limitations of sound keep him from making the movie he wanted. The camera moves, tracks, and soars above everything. Some of the shots and sequences are absolutely brutal and never would have been allowed just a few years later. Unlike so many war films that show great spectacular battles then tell you it's hell, this film just goes straight for the hell part. Every time I watch this film I swear it's the greatest of all time, but then there's another.
1. Citizen Kane (1941) - Orson Welles
If this is a surprising choice then clearly you know nothing of me or the general history of movies. I've dropped many hints along the way particularly about the brilliance of Gregg Toland and Bernard Hermann, deep focus compositions, long tracking shots, etc. Well it's all pointed to this, it has everything I love about movies. Within about 15 of watching it I'm always convinced nothing has ever been better. There are countless books, essays, and articles written about this film explaining all of the innovations, all of the brilliance so all I can really do is just agree with it. I know that the winds of change have decided that maybe Vertigo is the greatest film of all time now, but I'll be damned if I agree with that. Orson Welles might very well be the greatest director of them all and Citizen Kane is the only real proof we have of what he could do with complete control, a closed set, and final cut. I suppose you can cry about what could have been or just thank the lucky stars that for one glorious moment in time the greatest film of all time was made. So thank you very much for reading, see you next decade if I ever decide to update this mess.