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My top bestest films of all time (subject to change) Aug 02

With the bravado that only a national cinema organisation of great standing can muster, the British Film Institute has decreed which films are the Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time. It’s a poll weighted heavily to academics and critics – and, as a result, is rather pseudish, brimming with films that the reviewers’ would like people to know that they’ve seen and appreciated. It’s a selection of highbrow films, lest those who make a living from the movies be associated with something as lowbrow as “fun”.

Not that there aren’t fun films in the list or good films in the list. Of course there are. But it’s not an accessible list; not a list overwhelmed with movies that people who aren’t critics might have seen. I’m sure I’d enjoy many of the films on the list – although of the seven I have seen, there are a couple I’d happily not sit through again.

The only response then – as already demonstrated with Laurie’s Top 20 films of all time – is to share our own lists.

In Doctor Who fandom, a world dominated by lists in the way only true obsessives can achieve, we speak of two categorisations: favourite and best. It allows you to concede that the best story of season 11 is Doctor Who and the Time Warrior while harbouring much stronger personal feelings for the romping finale that is Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders. So this is a list of favourites that I also think are pretty damn good.

There are plenty of good quality films I would include in a more objective list but of which I’m not a particular fan – The Godfather being a prime example. As with the BFI’s, I’ve written a little bit about the entries in the top part of the list.

I reserve the right to change my mind about all of these tomorrow.

The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time

  1. Back to the Future
  2. If you excuse the somewhat dubious application of time travel theory (why would certain body parts disappear first when history is changed?), this is pretty much a flawless film. Fox and Lloyd are excellent, the script is brimming with laughs, the direction is spot on and the theme song is a karaoke classic. Five Deloreans out of five.

  3. Sleuth
  4. Adapted by Anthony Shaffer from his own stage play, this is wonderful. Pompous author Laurence Olivier and upstart hairdresser Michael Caine bound around a big country house attempting to outwit each other. There are twists, turns, a line of dialogue pilfered by The Smiths and a magnificently hammy performance from Olivier.

  5. Clue
  6. This one was never going to get anywhere near the BFI’s list but it’s an absolute joy. Thoroughly silly and unashamedly lacking in any deep meaning, this farce’s three different endings make it particularly good value for money – as it should be with Yes, Minister‘s Jonathan Lynn behind it. The cast are great – it’s Christopher Lloyd’s second film in the top three – but the stand-out performance is Madeline Kahn’s, whose Mrs White is unforgettably weird.

  7. Psycho
  8. Marion Crane comes from Phoenix and eats like a bird. There may be a theme there, although it’s somewhat tangential to the main thrust of the film, as Norman Bates’s naughty mother starts killing visitors left, right and- Well, there are only the two murders. The shower scene is probably the most famous cinematic murder in history, but if anything (and perhaps because of that) the second is the greater shock.

  9. 12 Angry Men
  10. I saw 12 Angry Men for the first time a couple of months ago as part of my attempt to watch all of the films in the IMDB’s Top 250 (I’m up to 108, although it varies because the list changes over time). I was blown away by how good it is – especially since the fame of the film means I had a pretty good idea how it was going to go. The only shame is that, by its nature, there are no women in it at all.

  11. In Bruges
  12. The most recent film in my list, coming from 2008. I should hate it. The posters had actually put me off. A gangster film with Colin Farrell? No thanks. But it’s terrific – and not really a gangster film at all. It’s about the relationship between two Irish criminals, delivered through strong performances and a brilliant, theatrical script that begs to be performed. One of my favourite scenes (in any film) involves Brendan Gleeson on the phone, the only character on screen for several minutes, completely captivating as he trades bon mots with an unseen Ralph Fiennes.

  13. The Wicker Man
  14. Virginal policeman Edward Woodward visits a creepy Scottish island, with less than hilarious consequences. Weird, suspenseful and with a glorious finale, there is the added bonus of Christopher Lee luxuriating in the role of Lord Summerisle. Spoilers: there’s a wicker man in it.

  15. The Princess Bride
  16. A film I’ve perhaps slightly grown out as I’ve become more cynical but this was wonderful when I was younger. A lovely, funny fairy tale, full of memorable scenes (who can’t quote “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”?), and all told to Fred Savage off of The Wonder Years (now 36!) by loveable grandfather Peter Falk.

  17. The Usual Suspects
  18. Not a film I thought I’d enjoy; I was pleased to be proved wrong. It’s good all the way through but earns its high placing thanks to one of the best endings of any film ever.

  19. Kind Hearts and Coronets
  20. Alec Guinness playing every member of an extended family, men and women alike, while Dennis Price tries to bump them off? Sounds off but the result is one of the delightfully fine British films ever made. (Yes, a third black and white film in the my top ten. That must make me all arty and cool.)

  21. Vertigo
  22. With its iconic Saul Bass title sequence and much-copied pull back and zoom effect (as notably used in Jaws), Vertigo follows clean cut Jimmy Stewart as he gets increasingly obsessed about a woman he saw fall to her death. That’s not going to end well.

  23. The Thomas Crown Affair
  24. Before you nod approvingly at my choice of a sixties classic, hold your horses – because this is the 1999 remake with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. More quickly paced, sexy and fun, this is far more enjoyable than the original. Clever, stylish, and another film with a terrific climax.

  25. The Lives of Others
  26. Yes, BFI, I can do foreign language films too. This German movie from 2006 is set in 80s East Berlin and examines the results of state surveillance through the ears of a Stasi agent who becomes obsessed with the subjects of his surveillance.

  27. Frenzy
  28. Hitchcock’s penultimate film and one of his less well known, this marks a return to London, featuring a bustling Covent Garden in its dying days as a fruit market. The neck tie murderer (that’s his method, not his victim) is on the loose. While laid-back policeman Alec McCowen attempts to solve the crime (and to avoid his wife’s culinary experimentations), Jon Finch tries to prove his innocence and Barry Foster off of Van der Valk swans about looking suave. A strong, seedy thriller.

  29. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  30. A rolling boulder, a magical Ark of the Covenant, Denholm Elliott, a stonking John Williams theme tune, Steven Spielberg behind the camera and Harrison Ford creating a new sardonic action hero. Oh, and that bit where he shoots the guy with the whip. What’s not to love?

  31. The Sixth Sense
  32. I don’t care if you worked out the twist. I didn’t and went “Ooh” in the cinema.

  33. The Sting
  34. Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer tinkles away, welcoming us to the 1930s Illinois and the 1970s film version of Hustle. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Newman and Redford – reunite to play an experienced con man and the slightly wet protegé who brings him out of retirement to take down gangster Robert Shaw. It won seven Oscars, but more importantly it’s good, twisty fun.

  35. Se7en
  36. Forever destined to be associated with the phrase “What’s in the box?”, this is a second 1995 Kevin Spacey film to grace by list – and he’s suitably creepy in this one. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman’s police officers – the latter soon to retire, in classic form – are on the hunt for a killer whose methods of murder relate to the Seven Deadly Sins. You’ve got to have a hobby, I suppose.

  37. Goldfinger
  38. Although the third bond film, Goldfinger is the most iconic, featuring golden Shirley Eaton, the laser interrogation, Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, Fort Knox, Oddjob’s hat and that theme tune.

  39. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
  40. I was introduced to this a few year’s ago on the outdoor screen at Somerset House. Fittingly, while we were waiting for the film to start, Dr David Owen appeared from the Admiralty and walked through the crowd. Well I thought it was fitting. A very odd Kubrick film with some brilliant moments and one of the best lines in film: “You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

  41. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  42. This one’s in foreign too. I is cultured.

  43. Fight Club
  44. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  45. Shaun of the Dead
  46. Yes, you heard me.

  47. Evil Under the Sun
  48. Another Shaffer script and a load of camp old fun.

  49. Brick
  50. A noir thriller set in a school.

  51. A Fish Called Wanda
  52. From Russia with Love
  53. Twelve Monkeys
  54. Back to the Future Part II
  55. The Fifth Element
  56. Gattaca
  57. Underrated science fiction with Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Uma Thurman. And, I’ve just remembered, Gore Vidal.

  58. Murder on the Orient Express
  59. It doesn’t matter if you know whodunnit.

  60. Being John Malkovich
  61. Inspiredly bonkers.

  62. A Clockwork Orange
  63. Brazil
  64. The Silence of the Lambs
  65. Ffffttttfftttffftttffftt

  66. The Empire Strikes Back
  67. Marginally better than the first one.

  68. Sneakers
  69. More Robert Redford. Has Superman’s dad from Lois & Clark in too. And Danny from The West Wing.

  70. Star Wars
  71. All About Eve
  72. Les Diaboliques
  73. Clouzot, you know.

  74. The Man Who Knew too Much
  75. Hitchcock’s colour remake of his own black and white film.

  76. The Dark Knight
  77. The Game
  78. Michael Douglas has quite a night out.

  79. North by Northwest
  80. Airplane!
  81. I picked the wrong day to give up making lists.

  82. The Truman Show
  83. The Lord of the Rings
  84. Yes, the whole thing.

  85. Galaxy Quest
  86. And why not?

5 Responses

  1. 1
    Lorna Dupre 

    Wot no Fargo? No The Mission? No Apollo 13?

  2. 2

    I’ve not seen The Mission or Apollo 13. Fargo I did try but have only managed 15 mins so far…

  3. 3
    Rob Stradling 

    Re: 6th Sense – I’m seriously jealous, but in order to believe you I have to assume that you were lucky enough to go to the cinema without being told there WAS a twist, at all?

    Because once you know (a) the set-up and (b) the fact that there’s a twist, it can only really be one thing. Then the first scene confirms it. By half an hour in, I felt like shouting “OKAY, I GET IT!!” at the screen. Of course, I soon realized that my frustration was misplaced; that these “clues” are put there presupposing that you DON’T expect a twist, for you to go back to later and marvel at. Which is, genuinely, brilliant; so long as no-one spoils the whole thing for you by saying “I won’t spoil the twist!”… argh! I’m not actually a particularly observant punter. I’m sure that, had I not been forewarned, the trick would have worked on me perfectly – and I would regard “The Sixth Sense” even more highly than I do. Which is still pretty high.

  4. 4
    Rob Stradling 

    Oh, and Will? See “Apollo XIII”. Soon. 😉

  5. 5

    Of course, I would be here waving my Clue and Princess Bride flags 😉

    Ha, I was just trying to remember what we saw at the cinema, thought it was Sixth Sense then for a minute, but of course it wasn’t, I barely ever see actual good stuff at the cinema, just mediocre stuff I can’t even really remember… (Ransom IIRC, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen on telly, weird).