Monday, April 1, 2013

Top 10 Movies of All Time

Finally, we get to the big one, my new and improved Top 10 list. For the past few days, I have been reworking my top 100 to prepare for this article. It was a lot of fun, but also frustrating since the list is becoming more and more exclusive (I have currently seen 2869 movies, making my top 100 roughly the top 3.5%). AFI’s most recent list was topped by Citizen Kane (1941), The Godfather (1972), and Casablanca (1943). Will any of those make an appearance here? Check it out!

My Top 10, by the numbers:
1: Directors with multiple films on the list
2: Sports movies on the list (neither are the same one from my last top 10)
3: Movies starring Robert De Niro
4: New top 10 movies
5: Films in the exact same spot as before
6: Different decades represented (3 from the 1990s)
7: Movies not mentioned on my power rankings series

Others Receiving Votes:
15. Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)
14. American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973)
13. The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)
12. Leaving Las Vegas (Mike Figgis, 1995)
11. Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003-2004)

10. Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941)
This is one of those movies that I am even surprised at how highly I have it ranked. If not for a 20th Century American History/American Film course one of my college instructors created, I may not have even come across this movie yet. It is certainly a highly entertaining and quietly hilarious movie, but it is also an imperative movie that takes us back to a time in American history as seamlessly as any movie I have ever seen. It is the quintessential movie about the Great Depression, but it is also a comedy. It is an ironic, beautiful, and important film from a truly original cinematic voice.
Previous Rank: 40

9. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
Brian De Palma (paraphrased, couldn't find the link), describing his initial thoughts on Raging Bull after only seeing the opening sequence with De Niro bouncing around the ring in slow-motion: “Damn you, Marty! Back to the drawing board. That shot alone makes this movie better than anything I have ever done.” For me, the entire movie has the same allure. It may be material that is not so easy to take in, but when immersed in this world, it is hard not to be left absolutely breathless. The more I revisit the movie, the higher it rises. There is no ceiling for this astonishing, gripping masterwork.
Previous Rank: 22

8. Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994)
In what is widely regarded as the greatest documentary ever put on the big screen, Hoop Dreams continues to cement that reputation nearly 20 years after its initial release. If this had been a work of fiction, it would have been written off as being too implausible or too Hollywood. Movies like this fascinate me because of how much faith the filmmakers must have had. This is not just a movie about two high school kids and their dream of playing in the NBA. It is more a flawless portrait of American inner city life, heartbreak, and yes, basketball. Director Steve James could not have asked for a better payoff for his 5 years of painstakingly following these two young men. I cannot imagine a documentary ever being this rewarding and unassuming.
Previous Rank: 17

7. Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant, 1997)
This is definitely my most personal choice on this list. I cannot think of a single movie that more directly spoke to me than Good Will Hunting. It features one of the most brilliant screenplays ever, one filled with so much passion and feeling that is absolutely earns its tears. It features a group of friends that are maybe the most believable group of friends I have seen in movies. I would be naïve to assume that it does not have its widespread fan-base, but I just cannot imagine someone loving every moment of this movie as much as I do.
Previous Rank: 10

6. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
This is one of those movies that absolutely has no equal. It took the well-worn sub-genre of gangster movies and flips it on its ear. It almost feels like a documentary when watching it, due to its fascinating attention to detail and realistic characters. It does not shy away from the unflattering scenes that make the mafia members less heroic. It absolutely stays true to its nonfiction source material and vision of its incomparable director. It is a frantic, absorbing, painfully hilarious, and absolutely thrilling film to watch.
Previous Rank: 6

5. A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1957)
Thank you AFI for that series of YouTube clips asking stars what their favorite movie is. Oddly enough, it was Paul Dano who mentioned A Man Escaped in such a nonchalant and fleeting way that forced me check it out. Never did I imagine that it would eventually turn into a top 5 film for me. It is absolutely mesmerizing to watch, but even more mesmerizing to hear. It is the greatest achievement in sound that I have ever come across. So much of the action happens off-screen, yet we feel like we saw it all. It is filmed in such a bare-bones fashion that to just watch it might be slightly underwhelming. But to take in the whole experience is as amazing and gratifying as any movie. As much as I love The Shawshank Redemption (#55 on my top 100), this is the greatest prison movie of all time. Sorry, IMDb Top 250 voters. Go watch this and adjust accordingly.
Previous Rank: Not Ranked

4. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
What is there even to say about The Godfather that hasn’t already been said? There has never been a movie more in touch with its tone, characters, and atmosphere than this, perhaps the consensus greatest movie among modern moviegoers. Every time I watch this movie, I am astounded at how each and every scene puts entire movies to shame. There is so much passion in every shot of the movie and in every word of every performance that I cannot help but just sit there staring at the screen completely spellbound. It is one of those movies that I just cannot help but wish I was born in another era so I could be there to watch this for the first time on the big screen back in 1972. I cannot even imagine what that must have been like.
Previous Rank: 4

3. Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
You would think that at some point this movie would move up, considering my addiction to it. I just cannot justify moving it above this spot yet, partially because it took a few viewings to actually climb into consideration for a top list. As I have mentioned several times, I watch this movie frequently. I can never find an actual flaw in it. Basically, Sideways is life. It is among the most honest, realistic, refreshing, heartbreaking, and funniest movies I have ever seen. For me, it sets the standard as far as comedy-dramas go. I have gotten to the point that I do not even want to call a movie a dramedy at risk of comparing it to Sideways. PS: If anyone has a flaw that they have found in this movie, let me know. I would love to hear/ debate it.
Previous Rank: 3

2. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
Roger Ebert famously stated in his review of this movie that it is so lovely that he was almost hugging himself while watching it. That is exactly how I am. I watched this movie for the first time on TV in a commercially-interrupted basic cable format, and it still almost immediately became my favorite movie. I ended up buying it that day and watched it an additional 6 times in the following week. It has gotten to the point that I can simply think about any part of the movie and it will instantly put me in a good mood. No movie, other than perhaps Toy Story and Good Will Hunting, can even come close to accomplishing that. For anyone who has ever had a dream, this movie is essential viewing. For anyone who has a thing for music, you have got to see this. It is maybe the most widely-appealing, effortlessly hilarious, and irresistible movie I have come across. I can watch it at any time and never get tired of it. In fact, hold up. I am going to put it in right now…
Previous Rank: 2

1. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)
There is no experience like watching The Deer Hunter. Oddly enough, like Almost Famous, I watched this for the first time on a similar basic cable, commercially-interrupted and edited 4 hour version. About halfway through, I knew I was watching the greatest movie of all time. And it only got better. If I see even a minute-long segment of any part of the movie, I feel like I have to watch it all the way through. It is an emotional roller-coaster. It features the greatest acting of any movie, including Christopher Walken’s astonishing, breathtaking, Oscar-winning performance. It has one of the simplest, most haunting musical scores of all time. It is edited in a way that makes every moment vital to the overall impact and payoff. As far as Vietnam War movies go, this is the gold standard. Platoon may be the best battle picture. Full Metal Jacket may have the cult status. Apocalypse Now may be the classic, but this is the complete Vietnam experience. It is the complete movie experience as well. It has everything you could ever want in a drama and more. There is no movie like it anywhere, and even though I am open to seeing some movies on this list dethroned, I just cannot ever picture a movie with that #1 next to it for me. So, if I never see a better movie in my life, it will not be a disappointment. If I do see a better movie, I cannot even imagine what might happen to me.
Previous Rank: 1

So, there you have it. Thoughts? Comments? Your top 10? What other power rankings would you like to see? Let me know below!

Previous Power Rankings:
Cheers – Most inspiring movies
Peers – Best on-screen couples/pairs
Fears – Scariest movies
Tears – Most emotional movie experiences
Jeers – Worst movies
Thrills – Most thrilling movies to watch
Laughs – Funniest movies


  1. Top ten movies of all time...(10)The Exorcist..."You're not my mother!!"(9)Oliver..."I'm reviewing..the situation"(8)Young Frankenstein..." Put ze candle back"(7)Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid..." For a moment there, I thought we were in trouble"(6)The Graduate..."Benjamin,I want you to know that I'm available to you..."...(5)Schindler's List..."You're giving them hope Oscar,you shouldn't do that.."...(4) The Defiant Ones..." They'll kill each other in five miles"...(3)Dr.Zhivago..." Lara!"...(2)To Sir with Love.."If you apologize because you are afraid,then you are a child, not a man."..(1) 2001 a Space Odyssey.." Daisy,Daisy, give me your answer do..."

  2. Interesting list. Not really a fan of 2001 or Young Frankenstein, and I haven't seen the two Poitier movies or Oliver, but the others are solid choices. Schindler is borderline Top 100 for me, and The Graduate is in the neighborhood as well. Loved the quick quotes to go accompany the films. Thanks for sharing.