1. Citizen Kane (1941)
directed by Orson Welles
It’s no surprise to anybody that Orson Welles’ cinematic masterpiece would take the top spot on this list. Citizen Kane has long been considered the best movie ever made, to the point that it is almost a foregone conclusion. But, when one actually takes the time to consider the film and all its complexities, one finds a film that is visually striking, to be sure, but also deeply personal. In Charles Foster Kane, Welles creates a character and story that is the epitome of American capitalism, both its successes and failures. It is strange that a film can represent so much and yet remain so specific.
Citizen Kane is a mystery of sorts, not to discover what Rosebud is, but what it means. Once we discover what it is that Kane so desires in his final moments, the true mystery reveals itself, and we are left to try to figure out what truly drove this man that we thought we had all figured out.
With each viewing, another layer seems to be peeled away, yet we can never quite get to the core. Perhaps because there is no core. It is a film of discovery, but not solutions. It is about a journey to an elusive location that looks deceptively close, but we never quite seem to arrive at.
Citizen Kane may have revolutionized filmmaking, but that isn’t the chief reason as to why it tops this list (one need only note the lack of Birth of a Nation to put that argument to rest). Technical achievements only take a film so far when the film isn’t emotionally and intellectually engaging.
Citizen Kane is that rare film that is visually gorgeous- a feast for the eyes and ears- but uses its themes and characters to keep its audience truly engaged and invested. It may seem to some that giving Kane the top spot is a bit of a cop-out. To those people, we can only recommend that they revisit the film. The idea of Citizen Kane as best film ever has long since supplanted the film itself, to the point that people will watch it with arms folded, daring the film to amaze them. With that attitude, one will only be disappointed. While the film truly is amazing, it was never meant to amaze. It was meant to make its audience think and feel.
And, if you truly allow it to do so, Citizen Kane will never disappoint you.