A few weeks ago the American Film Institute released a new list of the 100 all-time greatest movies. Arbitrary thoughts that should be argued freely in the comments:
No. 1: Citizen Kane. How often is something as good as its reputation? The Great Gatsby and Citizen Kane are pretty much it. It never gets old.
Nos. 2 and 32: The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. See above.
No. 14: Psycho. Great set-up, but after Janet Leigh gets stabbed, nothing interesting or memorable happens. Weak sauce compared to Vertigo, Rear Window and North by Northwest.
No. 17: The Graduate. Chris Eigeman's character woodsheds this movie in Barcelona, and rightfully so: "Katharine Ross has just married this really cool guy - tall, blond, incredibly popular, the make-out king of his fraternity in Berkeley - when this obnoxious Dustin Hoffman character shows up at the back of the church, acting like a total asshole. 'Elaine! Elaine!' Does Katharine Ross tell Dustin Hoffman, 'Get lost, creep. I'm a married woman'? No. She runs off with him - on a bus." Hoffman's character is a melodramatic narcissist, very much "a total asshole," and the movie's style and new-age, self-help values have not aged well.
No. 24: E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial. A couple years ago I got the DVD as a gift, and god damn, is this a wonderful movie -- moving and smart, but not at as sentimental about childhood as you might think.
No. 30: Apocalypse Now. Survived assorted recuttings, including that endless, dull scene at the French plantation in Apocalypse Now Redux. The original version is still total greatness. Can't get enough of it.
No. 35: Annie Hall. Deserves to be on the list, yeah, but I'd take Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors over it in a heartbeat. A little too cute for its own good.
No. 36: The Bridge on the River Kwai. The first big-studio big-action epic, and it's full of wit, terrific characters, tension and conflict. Endlessly entertaining. Another one that never gets old.
No. 41: King Kong (1933). Peter Jackson's remake is way better.
No. 43: Midnight Cowboy. What the fuck? Amusing for its kitsch value and depiction of New York, but not good or influential.
No. 44: The Philadelphia Story. One of my stealth favorites. Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant in great form, an early forerunner to what later would be known as a chick flick, only that it's super-smart and funny, an old movie where characters behave like actual recognizable people and say and do interesting things. The most charismatic, believable love triangle ever.
Nos. 54 and 59: MASH and Nashville. I'd take The Player or Short Cuts over both. MASH remains pretty great. Nashville is another movie that hasn't aged well. Both feel like outlines for the better Robert Altman stuff to come.
No. 60: Duck Soup. As great as any movie comedy, a total joy to watch, a love letter to anti-authoritarian anarchy, a mockery of European nationalism before World War II, the best of all Marx Brothers movies -- you name it. There's even a great musical number, and I fucking hate musicals, but every time I watch this movie and get to the musical number (it happens when the Groucho decides to lead the country into war) I wish my ass had some banjos and a bunch of peeps in my apartment and people dancing stupid. It's totally indispensable, just fucking wonderful, and, depending on your personality, a key to being a happy person.
No. 61: Sullivan's Travels. Thank tits this made the list, because not only is it fantastic, it's a movie that not a lot of people see or talk about, an old classic that deserves as much attention as possible, and, like Duck Soup, an exercise in joy. Hot-shot studio executive decides that he wants to make meaningful films, so he decides that he's going to go undercover, living with hobos and itinerants and farm workers. A road movie best described as thoughtful slapstick when it abrupty takes a turn toward the end that almost feels like something out of Faulkner's Go Down, Moses, leading us to a conclusion that's touching if slightly predictable. It's been one of my favorites for years, a movie that got me interested in Preston Sturges comedies and old black-and-white movies in general.
No. 64: Network. The awesomest.
No. 66: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fuck yeah.
Nos. 71, 72 and 76: Saving Private Ryan, The Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump. Saving Private Ryan affirmatively sucks, but I'll wait until someone leaves a comment calling me an asshole to explain more about why. I really hate it -- the performances, the piety, the tidiness, inexplicable human behavior and a narrative framing that is literally impossible. (I mean, it's a flashback by a guy who was not present for 90 percent of the movie.) Shawshank is fine, but The Green Mile is my favorite Frank Darabont/Stephen King prison movie. Forrest Gump is likable and imaginative, weird in a way very different from most blockbusters. I don't think any of these three come even close to being top-100 quality, especially when all the great Coen brothers work (Fargo especially, but Blood Simple? Miller's Crossing? Throw them a bone, assholes.) goes unlisted.
Nos. 86 and 92: Platoon and Goodfellas. If I cared more, the low placement of these movies would piss me off. Unrivaled. Saving Private Ryan wouldn't have been even possible without Platoon. Every war movie since Platoon has been mimicking Platoon. Goodfellas foreclosed later mob movies and gave birth to The Sopranos, and its mix of explicit violence and black humor has been echoed in so many descendants (Pulp Fiction and Boogie Nights ) that maybe people forget how exciting and thrilling these movies really are. Both are solid top-30 contenders.
Netflix advice: Movies on the list that most people haven't seen but are totally worth it (in order): Citizen Kane; Duck Soup; Sullivan's Travels; Network; The Last Picture Show; The Philadelphia Story; North by Northwest; The Bridge on the River Kwai; Bonnie and Clyde; Vertigo; Rear Window; On the Waterfront; The Best Years of Our Lives; The Grapes of Wrath.
I'm an idiot for not having seen: High Noon; The Searchers; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Blade Runner; The French Connection.