Thursday, July 4, 2013

Entertainment Weekly's Top 100 Films

Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, the #7 film on 
Entertainment Weekly's list of the greatest movies of all time.

For its July 5 / July 12 double issue, mainstream entertainment mag Entertainment Weekly (to which I am a longtime subscriber) published a list of the "All-Time Greatest Movies," listing 100 films (in order) that their critics, writers and editors nominated for said honor. Though I usually waggle my private parts at such lists, I do like the way EW's managing editor Jess Cagle frames their project, stating up front that:
We've tried to take into account each work's cultural impact and influence. 
I'm sure you will disagree with some of our choices, and that's how it should be. Personally, I will never be able to look at these lists without wanting to move stuff around.
I find the EW list interesting because it offers a cross-section of the highbrow, the middlebrow, and (here and there) the lowbrow, compiled as it is by professional film critics (who therefore must have more knowledge about world cinema and cinema history than the average casual filmgoer) working at a decidedly middlebrow, mainstream publication (which, given their assumed audience, limits their choices somewhat). So, while HEAVILY and unduly weighted toward Hollywood and other English-language cinemas, the list does include some "important" or canonical non-English-language films like Seven Samurai (#17), Bicycle Thieves (#26), and (personal all-time favorite of mine) Rules of the Game (#39), plus even a couple of bona fide art films like The Seventh Seal (#58) and La Dolce Vita (#87) . But it also includes such mainstream claptrap as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (#43) -- a shitty film by any measure -- and Titanic (#52), which is a good film (in the sense of being well-made) but probably not so meritorious that it deserves to be on a list like this one. These latter entries surely made the cut due to Cagle's "cultural impact" clause; I am sure they would never appear on the more reputable yet "esoteric" (Cagle's word) critics' lists such as the famous one compiled by Sight and Sound.

In other words, the EW list includes, on the one hand, critically acclaimed films that have withstood the test of time and whose canonization may likely relate to their quality, innovation, and/or cultural significance (e.g., Citizen Kane), and, on the other, works whose main claim to fame is mainstream popularity and/or fairly recent cultural / industrial impact (e.g. The Dark Knight, which is as zeitgeist-y as it gets and is surely culturally significant but is actually, from a technical standpoint, an extremely pedestrian, at points even sloppily crafted, movie).*

What this means for our purposes is that this list offers a diverse array of films to talk about, think about, and look at a little more closely.

Sadly, the website does not (yet) contain the list itself, just this cheesedickish photo slideshow of the top 10, so here is the list in its entirety:

1. Citizen Kane (1940)
2. The Godfather (1972)
3. Casablanca (1942)
4. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
5. Psycho (1960)
6. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
7. Mean Streets (1973)
8. The Gold Rush (1925)
9. Nashville (1975)
10. Gone With the Wind (1939)
11. King Kong (1933)
12. The Searchers (1956)
13. Annie Hall (1977)
14. Bambi (1942)
15. Blue Velvet (1986)
16. Singin' in the Rain (1952)
17. Seven Samurai (1954)
18. Jaws (1975)
19. Pulp Fiction (1994)
20. The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
21. Some Like it Hot (1959)
22. Toy Story (1995)
23. Notorious (1946)
24. The Sound of Music (1965)
25. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
26. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
27. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
28. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
29. North by Northwest (1959)
30. Sunrise (1927)
31. Chinatown (1974)
32. Duck Soup (1933) [!]
33. The Graduate (1967)
34. Adam's Rib (1949) [!]
35. Apocalypse Now (1979)
36. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
37. Manhattan (1979)
38. Vertigo (1958)
39. The Rules of the Game (1939)
40. Double Indemnity (1944)
41. The Road Warrior (1981)
42. Taxi Driver (1976)
43. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
44. On the Waterfront (1954)
45. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
46. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
47. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
48. It Happened One Night (1934)
49. Goldfinger (1964)
50. Intolerance (1916) [!]
51. A Hard Day's Night (1964)
52. Titanic (1997)
53. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
54. Breathless (1960)
55. Frankenstein (1931)
56. Schindler's List (1993)
57. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
58. The Seventh Seal (1957)
59. All the President's Men (1976)
60. Top Hat (1935) [!]
61. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
62. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
63. Network (1976)
64. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
65. Last Tango in Paris (1973) [!]
66. The Shining (1980)
67. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
68. GoodFellas (1990)
69. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
70. L'Avventura (1960) [!]
71. American Graffiti (1973)
72. The 400 Blows (1959)
73. Cabaret (1972)
74. The Hurt Locker (2009)
75. Touch of Evil (1958)
76. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
77. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
78. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
79. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
80. Dazed and Confused (1993)
81. Blade Runner (1982)
82. Scenes From a Marriage (1973) [!]
83. The Wild Bunch (1969)
84. Olympia (1938) [!]
85. Dirty Harry (1971)
86. All About Eve (1950)
87. La Dolce Vita (1960)
88. The Dark Knight (2008)
89. Woodstock (1970)
90. The French Connection (1971)
91. Do the Right Thing (1989)
92. The Piano (1993)
93. A Face in the Crowd (1957) [!]
94. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
95. Rushmore (1998)
96. Sullivan's Travels (1941)
97. Diner (1982)
98. All About My Mother (1999)
99. There Will Be Blood (2007)
100. Sweet Smell of Success (1957) [!]

[!] = I haven't seen it yet!

The thing that strikes me most about the list is how few of the entries I would outright delete from it: maybe only a half-dozen or so.** Of course, there are a great many movies I can think of that belong on this list instead of ones that appear here, so I suppose that if I were limited to only 100 entries, then more than just six of these would get bumped. Indeed, the most baffling aspect of EW's Top 100 list are its exclusions.***

Despite an occasional gnawing temptation I've had to construct my own such "Best Films" list, I have thus far nobly avoided doing so. Instead, what I propose to do here (and in the coming months) is to riff on EW's list, to write a post for each film they nominate, offering my own view on each film, stating which similar films might be equally (if not more) worthwhile selections, etc. This will of course be filtered through my tastes, but I will attempt whenever possible to offer explanations and various kinds of support for my views about these films. I will attempt to be as positive and equitable and non-snooty as I can be. My ultimate goal is to stimulate conversation and hopefully point readers toward new films and filmmakers with which to invigorate and enrich their own moviegoing palettes.

So stay tuned for my first post in the series, on Citizen Kane . . .

UPDATE 11/23/2013: Saw L'Avventura (#70) at The Dryden Theater
UPDATE 7/23/2014: Saw Sweet Smell of Success (#100)

* And thus it begins: regular readers will learn that, with the exception of a few key films, I am somewhat averse to the work of Christopher Nolan. In a forthcoming post I will delineate why this is, both from a technical filmmaking point of view, and from the standpoint of his overrated status among his legion of loyal fans (and perhaps among many pop-cultural critics as well). Let's defer that conversation for now; I simply wanted to mention my general distaste for Nolan's films up front, in the name of full disclosure.
** Titles at the top of my "kill list" include Return of the King, GoodFellas, Silence of the Lambs, The Dark Knight and Notorious.
*** In case you're interested, EW film critic Owen Gleiberman here explains some of the rationale behind the choices made by he and his staffers.


  1. Hmm. There are enough of these that I haven't seen yet for me to feel unqualified to comment on the list as a whole. What strikes me, though, is that (unless I've just missed it in reading over the list), there are no Coen Brothers films here. They hold two places in my personal list of best movies (with No Country for Old Men and The Big Lebowski) and I have a hard time believing that some of the films listed here are better and/or more influential than theirs.

    1. I am similarly shocked by the lack of Coens here. To me, any list of this kind that does not at least include FARGO, a widely acknowledged American masterpiece, is ridiculous.

  2. As a teenager, I bought a hardcover edition of Entertainment Weekly's 100 Greatest Films of All Time, which was obviously an earlier edition of this list. Along with a few special editions of Premier magazine (RIP), the AFI's "100 Years... 100 Movies", and TCM's annual 31 Days of Oscar, it was my first real cinephile guide and I saw every movie on it.

    In my first week at college, I happened upon Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Movie Wars" in the library, sat down, and read it in a single sitting. Then I checked out his "Essential Cinema" and read that the next day. A few years after that, I dug up my EW 100 Greatest Films book and cut it up to make collages and posters out of all the pictures. It felt like a rite of passage.

    As bad as it was in retrospect, their earlier list was still superior to this one. Seven Samurai and La Dolce Vita got bumped out of the top ten, leaving - oh, look at that - NO non-English language films in the top ten (and only four in the top 50). They replaced the original Star Wars with The Empire Strikes Back, and I would argue neither belongs anywhere near the list, but they also bumped up American Graffiti from being an Honorable Mention in the earlier list's epilogue to No. 71, four slots HIGHER than Touch of Evil.

    And, my god, The Lord of the Rings? Goldfinger? The Dark Knight?! Preposterous, not to mention dishonest, since it's clearly a thinly veiled attempt to market EW to twenty-something movie nerds on the internet. It's a quixotic folly to ridicule a publication as empty-headed and irrelevant as Entertainment Weekly, but that's just sad.

    1. So well said, and I believe that Rosenbaum should be required reading for any serious cinephile. I still haven't read ESSENTIAL CINEMA but I thank you for reminding me of it.

      "The Lord of the Rings? Goldfinger? The Dark Knight?! Preposterous, not to mention dishonest, since it's clearly a thinly veiled attempt to market EW to twenty-something movie nerds on the internet."

      I am having trouble deciding who EW's target demographic is these days. Maybe they don't know either, and that's what leads to such a wildly neurotic and at times inappropriate list here. A smart colleague of mine has written a history of the mag but I haven't finished her piece yet:

    2. I think the 1999 version of this list, compliled by Ty Burr, was much more interesting. Any list which manages to include - albeit near the end - both Celine and Julie Go Boating AND Last of the Mohicans is bound to please me on some level. This one just feels a bit more bland to me. And stuff like The Dark Knight and The Hurt Locker, fine films in their own distinct ways, just don't fit in and feel like transparent efforts to market this to a younger crowd (sorry for the bad faith, Owen). Especially given the exclusion of Mulholland Drive, easily the most acclaimed film of the decade and a half since EW last did this exercise.