My problem is winnowing and ranking. My definition of “best movies” is what movies do I want to see again and again? There really aren’t very many. Citizen Kane? Great movie. Do I want to re-watch it a lot? No. Same with, for example, Apocalypse Now!, an excellent adaptation of one of the best stories by my favorite writer.
I do know my top three:
- The Godfather
- Dr Strangelove
I can watch those again and again. I also like them because the screenplays are so tight, nothing unnecessary, and each scene supports the one that comes after. They are beautiful. Miracle on 34th Street is like that, so I guess I’ll make it number four:
- 4. Miracle on 34th Street
I don’t think is one of the best holiday films every made, I think it is one of the best across the board. In the last several decades it has become associated with Christmas and “family” viewing, and the several (usually very bad) remakes* over the years have focused on how cute Kris Kringle and the kid are. I see from a billboard near my office someone has even made a holiday play out of it, and I can only imagine what a really awful experience that must be, sitting through a live performance of a saccharine Miracle on 34th Street.
No, the original film was actually released in the summer (so it was never a “holiday film”), and is clearly a movie for and about adults. The plot is anything but simple, and most of the humor is fairly grown-up. Sure it’s sentimental, but a lot of the best movies are.
Last night was Christmas movie night with Ingrid and Ryan and his girlfriend in Costa Mesa. They watched Miracle on 34th Street. Apparently Ryan, who is an MMA fighter, had never seen it before. He probably assumed it was a dopey holiday film and avoided it his entire life. According to Ingrid, last night, by the end of the film, he was jumping out of seat and cheering.
That leaves the following films vying for number five:
- 5. Blade Runner
- 5. High Noon
- 5. Lawrence of Arabia
- 5. Outlaw Josey Wales
- 5. The Best Years of Our Lives
- 5. The Big Sleep
- 5. The General
- 5. The Hustler
Outlaw Josey Wales is a tricky one. The movie is long and episodic. But it also has the one scene I have probably re-watched more times than any other scene in any other movie, the ending. I also have mixed feelings about putting it in a Top Five or Top Ten list and leaving out Sergio Leone’s westerns. The Sergio Leone films are really excellent, but again which western do I go back to again and again? Outlaw Josey Wales (and High Noon, which in some ways isn’t really a western).
Sadly, none of my favorite films feature my favorite movie actors, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Edward G Robinson or Jimmy Stewart. I love seeing those guys on the screen, but I guess I don’t love their movies that much.
It’s a Wonderful Life comes close. Okay, great movie, really well made, great story, great screenplay, great actors, everything. I watch it again and again. But am I the only guy in the world who can’t help coming away from that movie feeling that George Bailey, for all he learned about how the world would be if he hadn’t lived, was still fucked by life? It’s got a happy ending, but I can’t help thinking about the day after Christmas and the day after that. George Bailey still has to go on, with all his dreams in ashes. I can’t put that movie in my Top Five or Top Ten, as much as I enjoy watching it.
Oh, man, The Godfather; I could go on about that for pages and pages.
* Why? Why does anyone remake such a perfect film, like Miracle on 34th Street or Casablanca? Do they think they can do it better? Would any painter attempt to “remake” the “Mona Lisa” or “The Raft of the Medusa?”