News And Commentary – The Greatest Films of All Time

What is your favorite movie?  We are often asked that question here at Mid Century Cinema, and our stock response is to reject the question with a dismissive, even haughty wave of the hand.  “Favorite”?  “Best”?  “The Greatest”?  Just what are those words supposed to mean when talking about the movies?  And to compare one to another?  Impossible.  Philistine!  How can you even ask?

Still, if you are going to constantly talk to people about the movies, such behavior comes with certain obligations, and you have to play the game.  But it is not an easy game to play.  Paul Schrader has given this some serious thought in an outstanding essay that is long, but which is very much worth reading through and thinking about.  Roger Ebert’s laudable approach was not so much to rank films, but to devote a regular column to celebrate “Great Movies,” a philosophy we have embraced on this site more generally; David Thomson recently walked his readers through a thousand films of interest

In the spirit of the enterprise, below is a list of twenty-five favorite films.  Not the greatest, not representative, not exhaustive, and not definitive—let’s call them “a set of singularly identifiable and personally meaningful films one can’t imagine being without.”  The list also follows Schrader’s rule of “only one film per director,” which we endorse, even though it often presents a daunting challenge of selecting a particular one from a favorite filmmaker; the rule also implicitly reifies an approach to talking about the movies that risks marginalizing the contributions of essential collaborators: writers, cinematographers, actors, editors, and others, without whose participation many of the great movies simply would not be great.

Finally, always keep in mind what Wally and Andre had to say about making a similar list: Wally: “As a matter of fact, the list . . . well, it isn’t arbitrary, but speaking for myself, on a different day I could easily have mentioned other films.” Andre: “I totally agree. How could I ever choose between a Matisse and a Vermeer or a Rembrandt and a Hockney—or between this Matisse and that Matisse? And we are different people at different times of our lives, with different tastes.”

Finally finally, a strict (and arbitrary) limit of twenty-five will inevitably leave much out.  This list, for example, does not include anything from, among many others, ten directors who have made films we love: Antonioni, Bresson, Godard, Hitchcock, Lang, Ophuls, Renoir, Rivette, Sautet, and Truffaut.  And it has no musicals.  No Westerns.  No Silents.  No Maltese Falcon!  (As such, we welcome comments, complaints, nominations and alternatives—drop us a note following the “contact” link above.)

                Here then, in alphabetical order, the list.  For today.

Army of Shadows (Melville, 1969)

Chinatown (Polanski, 1974)

A Christmas Tale (Desplechin, 2008)

The Clockmaker (Tavernier, 1974)

The Conversation (Coppola, 1974)

Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944)

Early Summer (Ozu, 1951)

Fanny and Alexander (Bergman, 1982)

La Guerre Est Finie (Resnais, 1966)

Just Before Nightfall (Chabrol, 1971)

The Killing (Kubrick, 1956)

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (Cassavetes, 1976)

Manhattan (Allen, 1979)

My Dinner with Andre (Malle, 1981)

My Night at Maud’s (Rohmer, 1969)

Nashville (Altman, 1975)

Night Moves (Penn, 1975)

Out of the Past (Tourneur, 1947)

Red (Kieslowski, 1994)

Summer Hours (Assayas, 2008)

Sweet Smell of Success (Mackendrick, 1957)

Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)

Three Days of the Condor (Pollack, 1975)

The Third Man (Reed, 1949)

Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958)