THE 137 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME (PLUS 863 UNMITIGATED DUDS)

(My take on movie posterity, stemming from a New York Times article. This is another from the old Leapster site that I thought might be worth a re-airing.)

News travels slow in Leapsternet land.

Just the other day (bear in mind this was written in early 2008) I stumbled across the fact that in 2004 a certain broadsheet of record had released a book entitled “The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made”.

(As opposed to the greatest 357 movies never made, presumably – a more innovative concept for a book, but difficult to get picture material on.)

You can see a partial list of these movies at the following post office box on the interweb.

What I liked about it straight away was that with 1000 movies to play with, the critics evidently felt there was enough free-range stretching room to include a number of vivid, idiosyncratic, full-blooded movies that never get within parking distance of a mention on the usual, brain-squelchingly conventional lists of the rote “100 Greatest Movies of All Time” run-throughs. (Such as the annual, and annually somewhat depressing American Film Institute list.)

It was nice to see “Sleeper”, W.C. Fields’ “It’s a Gift”, “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein”, “Dawn of the Dead”, “The Sweet Smell of Success”, “This is Spinal Tap”, “What’s Up Doc?”, a classically tough boxing picture of the 40s, like “The Set-Up”, “Goldfinger” (Why not? – a very near perfect ‘Big Entertainment’ type picture with unforgettable set-pieces, leavening black humour and a ton of style), “Cabaret”, “Dead of Night” and the early Sam Peckinpah movie “Ride the High Country” ushered in from the critical cold for a change. And the compilers at least deserve some credit for bravery in attempting the resurrection one of Ralph Bakshi’s 1970s animated pictures (“Heavy Traffic”). Not to mention a medal for someone finally getting around to rescuing “The King of Marvin Gardens” with Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern.

The first five Disney animated features are in there, and they probably should be too – not just because of technical and artistic considerations, or pioneering work in feature-length animation, but because they are all outstanding examples of involving motion picture storytelling taken to the point of near-hypnosis. (Well, “Fantasia” isn’t, but “Fantasia” had a range of other charms, attributes and effects working for it, as it still does.) The usual “100 Greatest” list doesn’t have room for all of them, and the usual routine of handling this is just to insert “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and just let it stand for the rest of the Disney features in code.

The downsides of the selection – well break out a deckchair and a preferred beverage and I’ll sing you an extended Bob Dylan style 63-verse ballad of emotional pain and gastric discomfort, in electrified print.

Basically this breaks down into three categories.

(1) The USUAL SUSPECTS

Not the movie of that title, although, astoundingly, it’s on the list, much to my crusty, gavel-wielding, Lifesavers-smashing chagrin.

Of course, what I’m referring to is all the ‘usual suspects’ movies that inevitably turn up on all the standard-issue, “We already printed the forms so why change the stationery now?” critical lists of “All-Time Great Movies”. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on the site, (in the review of “Edge of the City”), you get the impression with some of the more superannuated items that nobody’s bothered to take a look at some of these babies in about four or five decades, because if anyone had, they wouldn’t be coming within a basketballer’s femur’s distance of any list that wasn’t headed: “Return to Store, Insisting on Full Refund”.

I guess there are still people who think that, for example, “The African Queen”, “Bringing Up Baby”, “Bad Day at Black Rock” and “The Best Years of Our Lives” (Homer Simpson-flavoured revulsion-shudder on that last one) play like the greatest movies of all time NOW, but you’d have to picture most of them in nursing homes. They’re all good and memorable movies (well, three of them are) but time hasn’t been conspicuously kind to any of them, and after their robotic inclusion on every single list of this type in mortal history, you get to resent the equally valid or better choices that the sheer bloat of the kneejerk choices force out of contention.

“Key Largo” is a better Bogart picture than “African Queen” – actually it’s better than all these movies. It’s also not on this list. Any number of routinely ignored Marx Bros and W.C. Fields pictures of the 30s and 40s play much funnier to audiences now than the frenzied ‘takes’, mannered rhythms, and gimmick dialogue of “Bringing Up Baby” and its generic screwball ilk. (“Animal Crackers”, “Monkey Business”, “Horsefeathers”, and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” all omitted – the latter one of the greatest comedy movies ever made.) “Bad Day at Black Rock” is a powerful but powerfully dated ‘issue’ picture. “The Best Years of Our Lives” is soap, and not that good at it either. Anyone that would put “Marty” in a list of “greatest movies” hasn’t seen it recently. The not dissimilarly-themed “Requiem for a Heavyweight” plays a lot tougher, truer and tighter now, but will never make “Best x-hundred movie” consideration, presumably because of the ‘TV-stink’ of being derived from Rod Serling’s teleplay.

“The Apartment”, even as a 1960 comedy, now seems like such an antediluvean conception of comedic sexual sophistication, that you suspect it probably starts with a crank. And it’s right there on the New York Times list, dead on schedule.
Etc etc

(2) TOO NEW FOR SCHOOL

The end-product of all these types of lists, right across popular culture, but with a particular eye to both movies and pop/rock/contemporary music, has long since convinced me that the practice of sporting halls of fame should be followed, and contemporary movies/albums/whatever should be barred from consideration until they’ve survived some sort of test of time. Perspective is not like instant coffee – you just can’t add water and gargle the finished product right away. Attempts to ignore this most basic of precepts invariably result in choices whose only possible merit abides in the considerable face-flushing embarrassment they must later inflict on the nurks who included them, not to mention the generous hilarity afforded to all onlookers. About a 15 year moratorium sounds right to me, although you can probably whittle me down to 10 in a good mood.

Selections which strongly suggest the NYT 1000 list might have benefitted from this policy, in terms of raw sanity, include but are not limited to:

“The Usual Suspects”, “Being John Malkovich”, “Apollo 13”, “The Full Monty”, “Gangs of New York”, “Ghost World”, “Groundhog Day”, “L.A. Confidential”, “The Hours”, “The Man Who Wasn’t There”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Shakespeare in Love”, “Amelie”, “Hamlet” (2000), “Chicago”, “Adaptation”, and I view with the greatest suspicion any movie listed from 2000 on, including the ones I haven’t seen, because of that little matter of perspective – what hits the cerebral sweet-spot for one reviewer right now might look like last century’s fruit platter in just a couple of years’ time. It’s amazing how often that is exactly the case. I even liked some of those movies, but none of them struck me as undeniably “Pick me! Pick me!” indelible ink choices as great films when I saw them. As light sparkling mineral water entertainments, “Groundhog Day” or “Shakespeare in Love”, might have legs, but let’s give them an extra 5-10 years to prove it, presuming they ever do. (And I’m struggling mightily with the notion that their haven’t been one thousand better films made in movie history than “Groundhog Day”. Or 5,000 for that matter.) Charlie Kaufman’s pictures are fun, gimmicked up, rollercoasters for smarter children in the class, (well “Malkovich” was fun) but for me right now, that’s about the extent of the sandwich. I’d like to see who’s talking about them in 20 years’ time. Also, some of these are just plain old generic-wrapper El Crappo choices. Which brings us to…

(3) WHAT ARE YOU, INSANE?

The way the NYT 1000 Greatest Movies list breaks down for me goes approximately a lot like this. A bunch of people get together for a long, long lunch that lasts several weeks, and they’re movie critics, so there’s a lot of talking with their mouths full, tuna/onion bagel breath, and resultant food stains on clothing and all surrounding drapery. They had the usual 100 movies that always go on these lists, and they rubber-stamped those right in there. Then there was the 100 other movies they could all kind of agree on and tickle each other to giggling point about how daring they were to put on the list 100 movies that aren’t in the previous 100. Then they did some solid and exhaustive circle work with a ‘J’, where they all gave in with varying degrees of ill-tempered bemusement to each other’s more bizarre choices, and each squeezed in about two or three Professor Weirdstein choices apiece, while they all congratulated themselves on the thoroughgoing eclecticism of their collective choice, awarded each other sundry doctorates and academic tenure, and accidentally spat flecks of beetroot in everyone’s eyes.

That left them around 700 movies short, which was when they gave up entirely, hit the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide, and started frantically grabbing at anything on display where the book fell open to make up the numbers, with the chief critical guiding principle that they wanted to get out of the meeting before the baseball season was over. That’s as near as I can read it anyway.

It’s also the only way to explain some of the inclusions on this list. Let me dance you through a few fistfuls of examples:

“Amadeus” – a nice movie. Has anyone (and I mean on the planet) watched this since it won the Best Picture Oscar?

“Back to the Future” – One presumes that at least two of the National Lampoon “Vacation” pictures were also shortlisted.

“Beetlejuice” – Loved it all those years ago. Imaginative design, entertaining picture. Shouldn’t be here in a million years.

“Being There” – Not then, not now, not ever. Whoever put it in should be required by law to sit down and watch it now, all the way through, with no breaks for entertainment.

“Beverly Hills Cop” – I liked it, but its listing here is the funniest thing about this picture by a long chalk.

“The Big Chill” – Much like when a Warner Bros cartoon character turns on a washing machine, the result was a mess of soap. Smug, sloppy, soppy, half-cocked and fully drab. Great soundtrack though. The good version of this movie was called “Return of the Secaucus Seven” and I wouldn’t put that in a top 1000 movies either.

“The Big Red One” – They’ve now gone nuts on Sam Fuller pictures – there must be half his career on the list – but I’ve seen this one, and though it’s good, and game, it’s not one of the 1000 best pictures ever made.

“Blue Velvet” – cult suck-up movie of the time, well made and modishly sick, but who watches it now? “Eraserhead” as weird as it is, is the David Lynch movie with the courage of its convictions – the rest – at least of the early ones – look pretty mannered now.

“Body Heat” – Lawrence Kasdan. Really?

“Boogie Nights” – I doubt it.

“Breaker Morant” – Your superior BBC drama-like thoughtful, respectable entertainment, which is all fine and dandy right up to the point where you try and force that kind of square-block into this round-hole-oriented greatest MOVIES type of list.

“The Breakfast Club” – Ah, the magic of time and place. This is a more interesting choice than some of the others though.

“California Suite” – Ok, someone was really desperate to get home and pay the babysitter.

“Chariots of Fire” – See “Breaker Morant”.

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” – Yes, I had one with the insides of my eyelids. Portentous, ominous, voluminous sleepwear.

“Crumb” – Hi-impact documentary on a subject both worthy (Robert Crumb) and jaw-droppingly discombooberating (Robert Crumb and his family), but one of the all-time great documentaries? Who knows. Another decade’s worth of fermentation in the common movie gene-pool would give us a lot better idea.

“The Crying Game” – right, does this hold true for every viewer after 1992, who all, by definition, are aware of the trick ending?

“Dead Calm” – At least one half of this movie’s title was spot on the money. Had to read a synopsis to remind me that this profoundly suspense-resistant thriller was kind of a mini-“Cape Fear” set on a fairly small boat. As I remember, Nicole Kidman was too young for the part but not horrible, Sam Neill has been less starchy almost everywhere else, and Billy Zane probably would like to wipe this one off the resume – if he’d have had two more legs and a coat of varnish, he could have passed for a table. A flat-out bad movie from a good director (Phil Noyce), and one of the most inexplicable brain-explosions on the New York Times Best 1000 movie list.

“Dead End” – No, not now. Skid row soap that plays around gingerly with gangster elements, and less gingerly with what they used to call “bathos” and highly predictable bathos at that. For this they left out both versions of “Scarface”?

“Dead Ringers” – I like Cronenberg, particularly doing horror, but I think they’re stretching here.

“Diary of a Chambermaid” – A lot of Bunuel’s pictures are overrated, some aren’t, and this one takes the cake and entire bakery. Long-winded, labours like a draft-horse, and to me is evidently inferior to the equally bizarre but a lot shorter Renoir version of the same material.

“Die Hard” – Dunno. Not convinced it belongs.

“Diva” – another cult-sucker timepiece. The chocolate box was lovely, and the contents seemed mostly like chocolate flavoured air. I doubt time has been kind.

“Down by Law” – more cult-sucking material. Probably dates better than the others cited, but I’m still struggling.

“Dracula” – love this, Bela Lugosi is my boy, but it’s half a great movie and half a fabulous night’s sleep. Horror movies of that time like “The Black Cat” and “Island of Lost Souls” play a lot better now, and weren’t included on the list. Has undoubted and inestimable historical value, but historical value is another list entirely.

“Driving Miss Daisy” – Are you sure?

“The Elephant Man” – See “Breaker Morant” and “Chariots of Fire” and factor in a memorable lead performance and suave manipulation of German expressionist silent movie iconography (and a great shooting job by Freddie Francis) and you still don’t have a great movie.

“The Entertainer” – Love the showbiz-gone-sour theme and the tatty British seaside setting, but didn’t quite get there as a whole movie for me. Kind of had that grittier-than-usual teleplay feel to me, and I thought the actual later telemovie version with Jack Lemmon wasn’t that far off this. Not the worst choice on the list though.

“ET – The Extraterrestrial” – Well, it’s a better choice than “Close Encounters”. Actually as a piece of pure Spielberg storytelling and manipulation with a touch of the old-school Disneys, I never really had a problem with it. I put it here, because I think some other people might. Maybe the last flowering of Spielberg form and good judgement, ahead of grabbing hold of the helium tank of grimly serious subject matter, and pumping himself full of it. The Spielberg movie that should be on here is “Duel”.

“Fatal Attraction” – This is a leg-uncrossing, skirt-raising stunt, not a movie. OK grubby piece of playing-with-your-food type of pretend film noir. Not a great movie in a billion years. “The Postman Always Rings Twice” remake was probably a better conceived and executed roll-around in the same playpen, and that doesn’t come within several thousand light-years of any list I’d make either.

“The Fisher King” – Gilliam’s conventional feel-good picture, which was his worst right up until he went out of his way the last five or ten years to make every new film his worst. Aging badly as we speak.

“The Fly” (original) – Well it stood the test of time and it’s entertaining, but there must be one or two hundred better horror movies than this.

“The Fortune Cookie” – Theme remains contemporary, great comedy cast, all-time great director, and nothing funny going on in the city.

“Frenzy” – Later Hitchcock with keynote moments, that probably plays way too loose in the crotch these days.

“Full Metal Jacket” – can think of two Vietnam War movies of the time that were a lot more well-rounded, atmospheric and complete as movies than this. It’s good, but might struggle to make Kubrick’s top five pictures.

“The Full Monty” – Everyone likes a lolly now and then, but you wouldn’t necessary take up plate-space with one when ordering your last meal.

“Gallipolli” – I’m going with the “Breaker Morant” deal again on this one.

“GoodFellas” – Does it hold the attention? Does it fold, spindle and mutilate the attention for that matter? Big-time yes on all counts. With major stunt-performances to stake a career on. And Scorsese has made a lot better movies than this. “Casino” should be on the list. “GoodFellas” to me was always over-rated, and I’ll wear the extreme-minority opinion tag on that with beaming, well-meaning equanimity. He raised the bar, or at least laid the foundations and completed the remodelling on updating the “Godfather” model of crime family depiction to the modern-day template (“Sopranos” et al) and that’s significant, but significant doesn’t necessarily make a great movie. A great show-reel maybe. Kind of your extended gangster MTV music video.

“The Graduate” – Maybe the whole older sexy woman as a potential shag thing was more of a revelation back then. In the context of more modern popular culture/real life “Everybody shags everything” values, this seems quaint. Beyond that, there’s not enough funny in the comedy.

“The Grapes of Wrath” – As long as I don’t have to watch it. Influential, important in its time, and both book and particularly movie seem grindingly pious, long-winded and backdated now.

“The Grifters” – Everyone dressed up nice for the occasion, and there’s some appealing players there, the only problem is, it just was never that good.

“Hair” – I’m presuming that while everyone was on a toilet break, someone slipped this in as a joke. One of the worst movies ever made – musical or viewable – worth seeing as inadvertent comedy now, with a salami-like lead performance by the Treat Williams that will leave no thigh unslapped. Even his name is funny.

“Hannah and Her Sisters” – One of the ‘acceptably serious’ Woody Allen later-middle-stretch zzzz-friendly pictures that coffee-table intellects with no sense of humour seemed to find more trustworthy than his earlier, funnier pictures. Most of these are messy, pretentious, laugh-resistant and dull, no matter the quality of performance and craftsmanship, and this is emphatically no exception. Five minutes of small-scale Woody comedies like “Zelig” or “Radio Days” are worth 58 movies like this. Let alone his earlier, funnier films.

“Henry Fool” – With most people they’d probably get away with slipping this one in quietly, but unfortunately I saw it. Unlike most of the cult-suckers, had a theme (and an intriguing one too, on the subject of creativity), some actual content as opposed to picturesque sleaze and cool people in offbeat clothing, substituted a good dose of gloom for the usual conceptual post-modern arse-bargling about, and Parker Posey. And diddled around forever before falling away into the usual cess-hole of general death and depression. Not entirely valueless, but pretty much your standard issue art-house mess in the end. Not a great picture’s arsehole.

“Husbands and Wives” – AKA “The Year My Brittle Dialogue Broke”. Woody Allen runs out of ideas and funny, and rotates through every verbal, plot and stylistic cliché of his “We’re all grown up now so let’s talk dysfunctional relationships in an exceptionally dull manner” period to the point where it becomes like a comedy sketch parodying Woody Allen, thus providing the only entertainment value of the enterprise. What he was thinking with the early 60s Godard like camera/editing jiggery-pokery will forever remain a secret between Woody and his shrink, but it’s no bargain on our side of the screen. A complete mess. I can no longer remember if I actually walked out on this, or just fantasised about it in a catatonic state with my mouth and eyebrows frozen in the classic, disbelieving Skipper-reacting-to-Gilligan arrangement throughout. He’s made films nearly as dull (most of the ones without him in them) and he’s made movies that were at least as much of a brutally ill-conceived luncheon spill (“Hollywood Ending” comes roaring to mind) but he may never have combined both qualities on the one pizza like this. Was, should and will be remembered solely for Judy Davis giving one of the greatest performances ever seen in a cripplingly shitty movie. Seriously, if a scientist could create a scale that goes low enough and is finely enough calibrated, it might be possible to prove that this movie is even worse than “Hair”.

“I Know Where I’m Going!” – Lovely, warm-hearted, atmospheric and it has Wendy Hiller in it, one of the most joyously playful and idiosyncratic female leads in movie history – but it’s probably bound to come over as long, repetitive, predictable, and sentimental now. Patronising in its attitude to the headstrong female main character too, which won’t make it play any better. It’s the Paddle Pop that hits the spot on a summer walk, rather than the sit-down Beef Wellington you look for in an all-time great banquet.

“Jailhouse Rock” – Great movie? Or they wanted to get one Elvis picture in there. Probably a better choice than “Fun in Acapulco”.

“The Jazz Singer” (1927) – Other than seeing Al Jolson in some facsimile of his stage heyday (and possibly including that) the value here is exclusively historical, and as mentioned before, that’s a different list.

“Jerry Maguire” – Maybe, I don’t think so, and I’d prefer to give it another ten years and then suck it and see.

“The Killing Fields” – No. See “Breaker Morant” scenario above and add in a budget.

“Kramer vs Kramer” – Thought it was upmarket soap then in its Oscars-destroying heyday, and who’s watched it since?

“National Lampoon’s Animal House” – What in the name of God and John Belushi were they thinking? If you’re going to put a gross-out-heavy teen comedy in there, which is all this is, prototype or not, “Caddyshack” was more varied, inventive, had a better array of comic talent, and was funnier. And that probably shouldn’t be in here either.

“The Pink Panther” – As hysterical a performer as Sellers was, and as emblematic of its times (or the aspirations of certain people within those times) as this movie was, someone really ought to take a look at it now. Long dull stretches of plot obscuring the comedy movie, too much David Niven, far from the funniest Pink Panther movie.

“Playtime” – The two other Jacques Tati movies on the NY Times list (“M. Hulot’s Holiday”, “Mon Oncle”) absolutely belong there. As much as I love the character, as good as some moments are, this unravels under pressure of exceptionally slow pacing, and doesn’t deliver enough by way of pay-off to justify that. He was a great movie-maker who made two great feature films.

“Poltergeist” – A proficient entertainment, and that’s all she wrote.

“The Purple Rose of Cairo” – Woody Allen’s extended, soft-hearted and headed fudge-around with territory Buster Keaton already nailed decades earlier in “Sherlock Jr”. Even a lot of his light, middling kind of pictures (which are really only ‘middling’ by the giddily high standards of his best stuff anyway) , like “Broadway Danny Rose” have a lot more guts and laughs than this. It’s a less atrocious choice than the ones mentioned above, but “Radio Days” and “Zelig”, not to mention “Bananas”, “Take the Money and Run”, “Play It Again, Sam”, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex” and “Stardust Memories” should all have been in way ahead of this. (And are all missing in action. “Sleeper” and “Love and Death” surprisingly made the cut, as did the obvious choices that followed those movies. The non-Allen directed (but Allen-starring) “The Front” is an insane omission – just the kind of thing that leads to spontaneous conflagration of the dander in comparison to some of the frankly stupid choices that did make the cut.

“Quadrophenia” – The only problem there is that the original double-album is a better movie than the movie version. Well, that’s not the only problem, as atmospheric as “Quadrophenia” was in certain moments. Again, this is probably one of those “time and place” type selections.

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” – The only part that stood out for me, in terms of the guy making it really working up a lather, was the weird, angry Old Testament stuff about the Nazis. Otherwise you might as well put in an old Flash Gordon movie serial.

“Re-Animator” – Liked it a lot (in a slightly disgusted sort of way) and Stuart Gordon is or was a pretty interesting talent, but no, not really. If you’re picking a Stuart Gordon picture, it’s his version of “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and that even deserves to be on this list, even if no-one has heard of it. Even Oliver Reed, late in his career, was good in it.

“Repo Man” – Modish cult-sucker of the day with better torque than most of the species. Can’t see it not being dated now. Don’t know of too many who do see it now.

“Robocop” – I’m struggling with it in this context.

“Saturday Night Fever” – Where is the queue for people who weren’t marks for disco?

“Saving Private Ryan” – Plot contrivances up the wazoo and some hilariously stereotyped storytelling contrivances. I’ll never forget my stomach skipping the down elevator and plummeting 37 floors in freefall with that scene with the war-ravaged French town, the soldiers lounging around the patios, and the gramophone someone finds and cranks up with that frikking Edith Piaf song. Spielberg’s natural storytelling facility surfaces fitfully, attached to absolutely nothing of any significance. One of the most over-rated films of all time – the WWII equivalent of the equally shifty, slimy and hopelessly cliché-infested “Platoon”.

“Shaft” – Good entertainment, and holds up as such, but there were better blaxploitation pictures than this. “Across 110th Street” seems like the obvious omission here.

“A Shot in the Dark” – Funny, but the 70s yielded two funnier Pink Panther movies, and The Party is an inexcusable omission from the list.

“Stop Making Sense” – I think they just did. Well, I guess yesteryear’s art-school grad crowd got their licks in, what with this and “Henry Fool”.

“10” – OK, clearly we’ve changed the premise of the list now. What are we listing now? Going by the Kevin Kline movie from earlier and this one, it’s movies with big tits in them.

“Tootsie” – If Americans had lived through all those “Carry On” movies presumably they wouldn’t have got quite this worked up about a pretty routine drag comedy with a tediously drill-pressed message. At least it wasn’t “Mrs Doubtfire”.

“Total Recall” – Interesting choice, but no. Not even close really. “Blade Runner” you could have made a case for.

“The Trouble with Harry” – The black comedy odd-one-out from Hitchcock’s “golden” total-control US period. It’s long-winded, tediously arch and not funny. Anyone who’d actually troubled to look at it in the last 50 years could have worked that out for themselves.

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” – Whatever the technological achievements, whatever the historical value of reviving classic Hollywood characters in full animation (and in unprecedented teamings of those characters), whatever its value in returning theatrical feature cartoons to the production mainstream, it pimped on the characters it purported to love, and sublimated them (in a way that perverted the gleeful unfettered anarchy of those great comedy archetypes) to a morbid, third-rate and thoroughly annoying crime story. The degree to which it misunderstood the vintage characters it exploited was the only thing about the movie which was epic. The only place it flirted with greatness was in the animated Roger Rabbit short that opened the movie, and was at about the level of a decent Tom & Jerry MGM theatrical cartoon. That’s no insult, unlike the rest of this overrated clod-heap.

“Woodstock” – As a greatest MOVIE? Again, the historical and musical value of what’s in it (and even how it was shot) is incomparable, but I’ve never thought of it as a great movie as such. How do you compare it to something like “The Conversation”, or “The Wizard of Oz”? Great documentary? Well, hmmm, with an extra mmmm. It’s a music movie, isn’t it? I’m not sure concert movies should be in there at all. I found “Gimme Shelter” just as odd a choice.

And that ought to about do her for now.

Those who check out the New York Times list via the above link will see that there were plenty more inclusions worth questioning, but I left out the ones I hadn’t seen, or had only partially seen, or couldn’t remember clearly. Also I covered the bases on the most gorge-raising, risible choices, and left even the more ropey of the partially defensible ones alone.

Another time I might go into some detail on the movies which, amazingly, with a thousand places going begging, somehow managed to fly under that particular radar, but for now, it’s “Kirk Out”.

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9 thoughts on “THE 137 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME (PLUS 863 UNMITIGATED DUDS)

      • Yaaairrs. Not exactly Norm Jewison’s finest hour, perhaps, but it’s some form of movie at least, whereas “Hair” is some bizarre combination of a really gigantic garlic salami (Treat Williams) and a train wreck (all scripting, songs actressing, and dancering).

        Looking back at this piece, It IS actually kind of amazing that anyone of supposedly functional critical faculties could have ever, even for one brain-pulverised, utterly hungover, “I hit the wrong key on the typing thingo”, SECOND have thought that “Hair” belonged in the Top 1000 movies of all time. You know what distinguishes animals from humans? An opposable thumb, and no animals could ever be dumb, mental or disoriented enough to confuse “Hair” with a good movie.

  1. Hi Larry,
    I’m with you. The Americans just don’t seem to get wonderful motion pictures like Carry On Camping. Believe me, there’s subtly in that film.

  2. First: Blade Runner is not on their list! WTF?

    Second: I can’t agree that you can rule out a film from such a list because it hasn’t had a chance to stand the test of time. I admit that a film may impact the viewer immediately in a way that it might not in 20 years but waiting said 20 years to find out would result in a distorted and biased choice of films. Burn After Reading is one of my favorites and I would not exclude it just because it is less than 10 years old. Otherwise we’d have a list of films like LLL’s greatest hits in music that doesn’t include anything after 1974;)!

  3. re Psi Cop’s comment, as that marvellous cultured pearl of Australian dialect goes, “Yeah-Nahh”.

    When you consider that the “greatest of all time” in movie terms refers to attempts to judge comparative posterity of 100+ years of films, setting a 20 year non-inclusion time frame after a picture comes out doesn’t create ‘distorted and biased’ frames of reference in such a list – in fact it does the complete opposite and prevents this from happening.

    The simplest way to – as kindly as I can put this – track your howling error – is to look back at any number of panty-waist, numbnuts, haemoglobin-lite, cool nerd-wannabe lists of “all-time great” movies/albums/whatever as seen particularly in English pop culture magazines over the years, but not limited to those in terms of either geography or the terminally clueless.

    Actually, you can just listen to any time a commercial, pretend-commercial (i.e. Twipper-Jay), or even genuine alternative radio station does a poll on the “greatest” songs or albums of all time.

    Any of these unrestricted lists are not only invariably but probably inevitably overloaded with lightweight dung-packs in festive fashion colours of the day which came out in the last five-ten years.

    Anyone who’s got half an eye or ear for the pop culture area in question (whether movies, TV, music, whatever) and has some sort of critical faculty halfway intact, and a feel for the better works in whichever art area is under discussion can look at a list and right away pick the flibbertigibbet stuff that is going to be swept away by time’s tide into an ungainly puddle of stuff that will stock the trash’n’treasure market stalls and garage sales of the future forevermore within no longer than a five year period.

    This is why we don’t want “all-time great” lists over-saturated with tomorrow’s landfill – because then such lists would be a completely pointless exercise, and would do nothing to list what they’re meant to be listing, or investigating.

    I liked “Burn After Reading” too, a lot, but I have no idea, to be honest, how people will be viewing that film in 10-15 years time, or even if they will be looking at it. Something like “Good Night and Good Luck” I had a much stronger feeling about in that light when I first saw it. For reasons stated above, it doesn’t hurt the development of a useful body of critical work about film if either is left off the list of “all-time great movies” until 15, or 20, years after their first public circulation.

    If it’s all just about the supposed thrill of seeing our favourite movies of the last five years validated in some way by being on one of these lists (which is what the more spectacularly thoughtless and clue-free English mag lists seem to be about to me) this isn’t any sort of useful guide to the best in movies over time – it’s a wallpaper in “me-lifestyle” pastel colours and braincells to match.

    Your comment re my musical preferences sounds like a reflection of what Stew Farrell does with his pub verandah level stirring on the radio show we did together – i.e. my supposedly exclusively antique taste in music – is a crock, although perhaps not always meant seriously by Stew. (I doubt he knows sometimes whether it’s a stir or serious. Outside what I see as Stew’s Four Known Food Groups of music – squeazily-tight narrow sub-genre areas to me – I’m not real sure Stew’s in much of a position to judge.)

    What I’ve written on the old Leapster site, what I’ve said and played on air, proves this wrong, but some folks haven’t got the ears or the patience in terms of research to tell the diff between something from 1972 and 1992. Incidentally, 1992 would be the year of eligibility if we went with a 20 year exclusion zone.

    (Music is more dynamic in terms of changeovers in styles, or at least perceived progress in styles, so it wouldn’t offend me to look at a ten-year exclusion period (past the original appearance of the album/track), although I’d feel safer that a representative and worthwhile job was going to be made of a list if the cut-off point was 15 years ago.)

    If we all have a think about it, there are many existing Halls of Fame which, as a matter of record, have already employed this kind of exclusionary time-frame for active players, to avoid the very type of distortions that you are so emphatically defending.

    It’s pretty simple really. If you do an all-time list NOW, most of the people responding will be more influenced and have stronger memories of what happened more recently. There are always less people with, not only age, but in the absence of great age and matching experience/wisdom, then the perspective, the research and the dedication to the core premise – i.e. nominating the real best of ALL-TIME, not five minutes ago – to cancel the yammering yeehaws of the former group out.

    This is all basic, limitations withhin human nature, type stuff. What you suggested in your response is all “But I want my movies in NOWWW, while I can still taste the popcorn”. It ignores the basic human nature which guarantees that unrestricted lists must, can and will basically suck.

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