Recently, the British film magazine Sight & Sound released its newest Top 10 films of all-time list, an argument starter that has been published once a decade since 1952. The list made waves this time around because for the first time Citizen Kane did not appear in the top spot. That honor went instead to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which has been surging in critical appraisal for a while now. (The AFI ranked the film #61 on its initial Top 100 list in 1997, only to have it shoot up to #9 on the 10th Anniversary list in 2007.)
Vertigo is a fine film, but it is probably not even in my top 5 Hitchcock films. (North by Northwest, Notorious, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt) Still, consensus is inevitable in this type of exercise, so I can’t blame the critics for coalescing around one particular Hitchcock masterpiece.
In the spirit of the individual lists, some of which are trickling out online and all of which are inherently fascinating. The directors’ lists are delightfully idiosyncratic. (Quentin Tarrantino’s list is especially interesting.) So I thought I would offer up my own Top 10 list, and I would gladly welcome lists from all of you as well.
Now, not being a professional film critic, I have not seen as many movies as the men and women Sight & Sound polled. I have been especially delinquent when it comes to foreign films. One of the greatest benefits of a list like Sight & Sound’s is that directs viewers like me to the best places to start viewing foreign films. Here, then, is my American-dominated list of what I consider the best films of all-time.
1. Casablanca- the greatest screenplay ever written
2. The Apartment- elegantly constructed, warm, winning, great performances by Lemmon, MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray as the heel
3. His Girl Friday- breakneck screwball comedy, great plot, and great chemistry between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell
4. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance- John Ford directs John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart in a western that ably deconstructs the myths Hollywood has erected around the American West
5. On the Waterfront- Brando gives the best performance of his career or anyone else’s
6. The Philadelphia Story- Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Katharine Hepburn are all magnificent, and the supporting cast is wonderful as well.
7. Network- Paddy Chayefsky’s speeches are given the breath of life by William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, and in one spectacular scene, Ned Beatty
8. The Bridge on the River Kwai- David Lean’s epic film about the absurdity of war, patriotism, and the men who give themselves over to it
9. The Godfather- majestic storytelling and an amazing cast
10. The Great Escape- compulsively watchable
Honorable Mention: It’s so hard to leave off films like 12 Angry Men, Chinatown, Citizen Kane (which was on the list for the longest time), The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Bringing Up Baby, Patton, Singin’ in the Rain, The Magnificent Seven, any one of several Hitchcock films, and I could not decide which Coen Brothers film most deserved a spot between Fargo, Raising Arizona and the Big Lebowski.
Alright, that’s my list. What’s yours?