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Top 100 Movies

28 May












1. Citizen Kane (1941)

20 Apr

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.

2. The Godfather (1972)

20 Apr

directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Perhaps there is such a thing as being too loyal to your family. If you’re not careful, you’ll start to champion family loyalty above all else; including civility. As Francis Ford Coppola pitched, The Godfather wouldn’t be a typical gangster film. Instead, it would be the portrait of an American family that happens to be a part of the mafia. This unique vision helps us to understand the criminal element a bit more. What society would view as monsters are merely normal people that have put themselves and their family under extraordinary pressure. If there’s a family spat, the entire city feels it. And when kids reject their parents’ values, people die. All so that they, like every other American family, can get their own slice of the pie.

3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969)

20 Apr

directed by Stanley Kubrick

You have to wonder if Stanley Kubrick truly sympathized with HAL. He made a career out of taking cold and clinical looks at human beings and their nature and, in the end, he probably understood people better than they understood themselves. Which is why, for all its quiet distance, 2001 is the kind of movie that is really about something. Humans, for their entire history, have been lunging forward at technical advancement. Kubrick wonders if maybe we should be similarly motivated in regards to our minds and souls.

4. Apocalypse Now (1979)

20 Apr

directed by Francis Ford Coppola
The strange thing about war is that, even when you’re doing everything right, you’re still doing something inherently wrong. Faced with this absurd truth, an Army Colonel goes insane. The Army gets worried, so they send somebody to kill him. The thing is, anybody qualified to go after this man would have to have seen many of the same things and, thus, could be just as likely to go insane at any moment. And, completing this crazy triangle, anybody desiring to tell the story of these two men has to be a little insane himself. Such is the affect of Apocalypse Now. Its horrifying look into the darker side of humanity is so powerful, nobody is safe. Not the characters, not the storyteller, and certainly not the audience. Like war itself, this film will haunt you forever.

5. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

20 Apr

directed by Stanley Kubrick

It takes a special kind of mind to look at the possibility of nuclear holocaust and see comedic potential. Stanley Kubrick’s attempt to make a serious film about the Cold War led him down an absurd path, ending in the eventual acceptance of the ridiculousness of the whole situation. His new vision was to get the world laughing at their own impending doom. That’s not an easy thing to do in a country that had just looked down the gun barrel. But, then, Kubrick was not the sort of director to only tackle easy films. His films were a challenge, both to himself and his audience. Thankfully for us, Dr. Strangelove had plenty of comedic sugar to help the medicine go down.

6. Casablanca (1942)

20 Apr

directed by Michael Curtiz

One of the few films that can truly be considered perfect. Casablanca took an exotic location, a complex love triangle, and international intrigue, and put them all together to form a complicated story about self sacrifice and the greater good. Our hero, with a past full of sad memories, makes it clear that he is only in this for himself. He’s been hurt enough; now it’s time to sit back and take it easy. Sure enough, the past comes strolling back in and Rick is forced to do the very last thing he’d ever want to: think about somebody else. This leads to a finale that is simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring.

7. Vertigo (1958)

20 Apr

directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock may be a beloved figure in cinematic history, the entertaining plump man who playfully inserted himself into all his films. But to do what he did, he would have had to be an obsessive weirdo. It seems likely given that his best film is a weird story about obsession. The lovable Jimmy Stewart starts out being, well, very lovable and then devolves into a consumed and pathetic remnant, unsure if he’s the same man he once was. Hitchcock’s trick is that we follow Stewart so far down the rabbit hole, we start to wonder just who we are too.

8. Pulp Fiction (1994)

20 Apr

directed by Quentin Tarantino

The Scorseses and the Spielbergs were the first generation of successful filmmakers to have graduated from film school and so they made movies that were more academic and referential than those that came before. Then along came the Coens and the Tarantinos, a generation of filmmakers to have been schooled on those films. And so we have movies that speak to the modern, pop-culture savvy, American mind wherein personal experience and the experiences within the stories we have consumed en masse are no longer separate. Pulp Fiction doesn’t operate like real life. It chugs along on cinematic logic. But for a generation of young adults who behave as if they’re in a movie anyway, it’s a validating and uplifting experience.

9. The Godfather Part II (1974)

20 Apr

directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Not being content to simply have made one of the most quintessential films about family in America, Francis Ford Coppola decided to follow it up with one of the greatest films about America itself to ever be produced. Mafia movies have always been about the dark side of the American dream but Coppola seems to suggest that that side is the true side. The film cuts back and forth between Vito Corleone’s rise to the top as a young man, strictly at a local level, and his son Michael’s increasing power on a national scale as he aligns himself with the most treacherous organized crime unit of the 20th century, big business. America is about getting ahead of the other guy and, sadly, this is often how it happens.