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Thursday, June 28, 2007


The Top Ten Movies of All Time

 

By John W. Whitehead

Be ye warned: the American Film Institute has just named its top 100 movies of all time. And while the list is not all that bad, AFI’s top ten movies present a problem.

All fine movies—Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Casablanca, Raging Bull, Singing in the Rain, Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Schindler’s List, Vertigo and The Wizard of Oz—AFI’s top ten list tends to read more like a politically correct movie guide.

Considering that only one film in the top ten list was made after 1980, one might understandably (and mistakenly) conclude that few great films have been made in the last three decades. However, in evaluating films, there should be more concentration on their artistic value and influential nature.

Great films rise to a level of art. And good art forces us to think about the important questions of life. Great films are also entertaining. You not only want to see them again and again, they require repeated viewings.

Based on these criteria, among others, following is my list of the top ten films of all time.

Citizen Kane (1941). Universally acknowledged as a turning point in film history, Orson Welles’ masterpiece is the story of a complex genius who is haunted by boredom and the inability to believe in anything—later to be mirrored in Welles’ own life. This film raised important questions about the nature of American politics and its relationship to the crisis brewing in Europe with the rise of Nazism.

The Third Man (1949). Carol Reed’s classic film portrays the corruption of the new man in the post-World War Two world of profiteers and greed. Great direction, cinematography, screenplay and soundtrack. The film endures because it addresses the same problem we face today—living in a world that continues to dehumanize us, where it’s difficult to tell the good guys from the bad ones.

The Searchers (1956). This John Ford western tells the tragic story of a man’s five-year search for his kidnapped niece. Visually stunning against the backdrop of Monument Valley, Arizona, this man’s relentless search later turns up in the form of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, among others.

The Seventh Seal (1956). Set in the Middle Ages when the plague is raging, this superb film by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman centers on a knight engaged in a literal chess game with Death. Taking its title from the Book of Revelation, the film grapples with fundamental questions that have tortured thinkers for centuries. Highly influential film on a generation of filmmakers. Subtitles, but that won’t deter you.

Vertigo (1958). This great Alfred Hitchcock film opens with a police detective clinging to a collapsing gutter. He hangs on, but the vertiginous vision of death that he faced irreparably alters his perspective on life. Innovatively filmed with surrealistic sets, Hitchcock fashioned a genuine tragedy with Vertigo but a compassionate one as well, disclosed particularly in the very last line: “God have mercy…”

The Wild Bunch (1969). This classic western raised an immediate fury with audiences and critics alike. Some 90,000 rounds of ammo were expended in the final showdown, where a gang of aging outlaws seeks to rescue one of their comrades from a group of Mexican cutthroats. This film brought violence to the level of art. But then again, while Sam Peckinpah was making the film, the violence of Vietnam was displayed on the nightly news and the film became a metaphor for U.S. involvement in that war.

A Clockwork Orange (1971). This Stanley Kubrick masterpiece is set in the future where chaos reigns, there are no rules and the state is run by psychologists and thugs. The main character is a gang leader who engages in “ultra-violence.” He is eventually caught by the police and is forced to undergo psychological treatment to destroy his destructive tendencies. This film examines humanity at its core. Can we be good? Is there something so deep down in human nature that can never be reversed? Violent and sexually explicit.

Blade Runner (1982). Now a cult classic, this Ridley Scott film portrays a grim, dark future where a policeman stalks replicants (artificial humans) who are creating havoc. One cannot understand this film without comprehending the deeply felt moral, philosophical, ecological and sociological concerns that are interwoven throughout the story. Three profound questions contribute to the core of this film—Who am I? Why am I here? What does it mean to be human? Violent.

Blue Velvet (1987). In this influential David Lynch movie, a college student discovers a severed ear in an empty lot and is thrust into the dark world of murder, depravity and sexual deviation. The film’s sub-thesis is that there is a shadow world operating beneath or just on the other side of the so-called normal world that we all take for granted as “real” existence. Violent and sexually explicit.

A Pure Formality (1994). This film revolves around a French novelist filled with anguish, torment and driven to drink who finds himself accused of murder. Assuring his captive that being brought in for questioning is “purely a formality,” a nameless investigator politely interrogates the novelist, only to find that the legendary author cannot consistently recall any of the previous day’s events. Complex and engaging, we soon find out that there is a sub-reality to the story and a destiny in which we all will soon be engaged. Subtitles.

Watch and enjoy.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at [email protected]. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.

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