Right before our ever-more living through interesting times trip to Tampa Bay, Marcia and I watched Bob Fosse’s 1979 film All The Jazz. She had watched the Fosse/Verdon miniseries without me, then watched Cabaret on Netflix while I was traveling. She expressed an interest in seeing Fosse’s autobiographical Jazz as well, since it covers aspects and elements of the story told in the miniseries, only lightly fictionalized (with a few crucial, shocking exceptions). I have long cited All That Jazz as one of my favorite films, so I was perfectly happy to order the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray edition of it for us to watch, since it was not available to stream. Bring on the popcorn!
This was, oh, I dunno, probably the fourth or fifth time I’ve watched that film since its release. My regard for it grows with each viewing, and that was affirmed again this time around. I believe it is Fosse’s greatest masterpiece, and one of the finest films ever made. It’s really rare that I ever want to watch movies more than once, even ones I like, so when one moves me enough to consider multiple repeat screenings, that cements its favorite status in my heart and mind. That’s especially true in Jazz‘s case, with its musical structure and Broadway-style set pieces, given that I usually hate those in movies, just on principal. It takes a lot to overcome my general revulsion toward that form.
Of course, me being me, and me also looking at a lot of unexpected hunkering down time to watch movies over the weeks ahead, after watching All That Jazz, I got to thinking about what other films I’d rank as my all-time favorites, and be willing to watch again. And again. I’ve done that sort of life-time list with albums on here for years, but when it comes to films, while I’ve occasionally plonked some off-the-cuff “Top Ten Movie” ideas down here, or done some time-specific lists as decades roll to a close, I’ve never really sat down to think about my All-Time Best of the Best Film List in any meaningful way.
So while we were in Florida, I went back through all of my various old small lists and made one big list out of them. And then I edited it to a nice round number — fifty — and I decided that for the purposes of this list, I’d not include documentaries; I might need to give them their own list at some point. I tried to stick to the things that I really, really love, and that I personally believe to be true masterpieces, and not to start off the way that so many lists of this ilk do, with the “usual suspect” entries that critics are obliged to cite.
You know the ones: Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather, Battleship Potemkin, 8 1/2, Breathless, etc. All fine, important films, of course, but none of them move me as deeply on a personal basis as the ones I put on my own list. On the flip-side of that rubric, I also tried to apply some reasonable objective quality filters to knock things off the list like, say, John Boorman’s Zardoz or George Roy Hill’s Slap Shot, both of which I’ve also seen numerous times and which always tickle me to pieces, but which I know are just not great films, as much as I want them to be so.
I was not particularly surprised when I came up with my final 50 to see that almost all of the films were made in my lifetime. Things with relevance and current release energy that I first experienced when they were relatively fresh are more likely to move me deeply than things from earlier eras. I mean, I’ve read and been told so many times how to process and respond to Citizen Kane that I don’t really quite know what my real personal feelings are about it any more. (I suspect this is true for most folks, though I also suspect that few critics would admit it). While Kane may truly have changed the way we view and make cinema, I’m of the era that was raised on its followers, such that many of its then-revolutionary aspects look, feel and sound tame (and dull) to me, and I can’t remove the lenses through which I view it and others of its venerable stature.
But sitting through Ari Aster’s Midsommar last year? Blammo! My Head A Splode! And I thought about that flick for a long time after it was over, the feelings it created were deep and powerful, its artistry and acting were sublime, and I didn’t need anybody to tell me what I should think about it, and why it mattered. It was objectively great and subjectively a favorite, for sure, in it’s own damn right. Onto the list with you! Huttah!
Okay, with all of that as (long) preamble, I present my Top 50 Film List below, in chronological order (oldest to newest) by United States’ premier dates. Title, release year, and director noted for each one. I wish the directors’ roster wasn’t as much of a white boys sausage party as it is, but that’s what’s been mostly put before me for most of my lifetime by the film-making powers that be, so it reflects that, alas. That said, I am very, very glad to see that dynamic (slowly) changing, bit by bit, year by year, no matter how white and paternalistic Oscar apparently continues to want to be, damn him and his enablers.
I don’t know how many of these are available for streaming, or even on Blu-Ray for some of the obscurities, but I’ll keep the list handy near the TV Command Station in the weeks ahead, and see what we see. Let me know if you’re moved to watch any of these on your own, and what you think/thought if you do. Always happy to discuss great flicks!
- The Great Dictator (1940, Charlie Chaplin)
- Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Stanley Kubrick)
- Seconds (1966, John Frankenheimer)
- Cool Hand Luke (1967, Stuart Rosenberg)
- The Graduate (1967, Mike Nichols)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
- Petulia (1968, Richard Lester)
- A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick)
- Walkabout (1971, Nicolas Roeg)
- Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog)
- Deliverance (1972, John Boorman)
- The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Luis Buñuel)
- Don’t Look Now (1973, Nicolas Roeg)
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, Miloš Forman)
- Taxi Driver (1976, Martin Scorsese)
- The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976, Nicolas Roeg)
- Network (1976, Sidney Lumet)
- Eraserhead (1977, David Lynch)
- The Last Wave (1977, Peter Weir)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, Philip Kaufman)
- All That Jazz (1979, Bob Fosse)
- Time Bandits (1981, Terry Gilliam)
- Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)
- Liquid Sky (1982, Slava Tsukerman)
- Brazil (1985, Terry Gilliam)
- A Zed & Two Noughts (1985, Peter Greenaway)
- The Princess Bride (1987, Rob Reiner)
- The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989, Peter Greenaway)
- Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)
- The Piano (1993, Jane Campion)
- What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993, Lasse Hallström)
- Dead Man (1995, Jim Jarmusch)
- Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch)
- Lost in Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola)
- The Fountain (2006, Darren Aronofsky)
- WALL-E (2008, Andrew Stanton)
- Up (2009, Pete Docter)
- Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky)
- Melancholia (2011, Lars von Trier)
- Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012, Benh Zeitlin)
- Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)
- A Field in England (2013, Ben Wheatley)
- Under the Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson)
- Inside Out (2015, Pete Docter)
- The Witch (2015, Robert Eggers)
- Moonlight (2016, Barry Jenkins)
- A Ghost Story (2017, David Lowery)
- mother! (2017, Darren Aronofsky)
- Midsommar (2019, Ari Aster)