It's apparently been ten years already and there's a lot of talk about what the greatest films of all time are. I would like to humbly share my personal picks for the 2022 Sight and Sound poll. It's so clear to me that for a not professional movie blogger for the past thirteen years I really haven't seen a ton of movies. I'd like to expand the depths of my knowledge, but I'm also honestly okay with seeing the movies I like to watch instead of the ones people say I should watch. That means I don't catch After Yang (2022) but I didn't see Top Gun: Maverick (2022), either!
So my list is an assortment of mostly popular films, but all ones that fire up every aspect of filmmaking. Coherent action, tight narrative structures, deep themes that are revealed through action, choices, and emotion. That's really what I'm looking for in a film. When a movie can do all that while also being thrilling, funny, and good to look at, that's really where we get something special.
I am assuredly affected by nostalgia and when I think of a film that has a dozen quotes instantly come to mind, that affects me quite a bit. So let's get to it!
#10: Marty (1955)
I just saw this one and I've thought about it all month. I think it's really a film for our times, which is insane, because it was a film for our grandparents' times. It resonated back then enough to win best picture, but we don't acknowledge how great this thing is anymore. Ernest Borgnine is incredible without being showy or chewy and it doesn't batter you with its themes and consequences, it's remarkably naturalistic and funny while drilling into some significant issues about dealing with family expectations, arrested development, and finding love and happiness. I have weird recency bias since I just saw it, but already one of the greats.
I was going to put The Blues Brothers (1980) here because another one of my criteria is for a movie to just be endlessly watchable and quotable, and that's one I could literally watch every single day and brings so much meaning to my life. But get real, that's barely even an actual movie. I ultimately couldn't justify it.
#9: There Will Be Blood (2007)
In the eternal battle between the nearly equally great No Country For Old Men (2007), Atonement (2007), and this, I've always been a Daniel Plainview fan. Who knew one of the most irredeemable characters in cinema history could be so compelling to watch for three hours? It's like the inverse of any other movie. He's assaulted with continual challenges and opportunities to be a nice person, but he rejects and rejects, not even out of a love of capitalism, even though that's there too, but out of a malice and misanthropy that I just really identify with. Add to that a collection of insanely good quotes, a delicate plot balanced entirely of hypocritical people not saying what they mean (except ironically enough, Daniel), and it's a really fun epic.
#8: Seven Samurai (1954)
I don't have all that many foundational-type films on here, but Seven Samurai is one that created an endless amount of imitators, a story that transcended genre, all while being its own film that holds up today. Epic rings again here, but also one that tells such a compelling story that balances pure heroism with redemption and an articulate viewpoint, end goal, and catharsis for every character, not just the eponymous Samurai. It's the kind of movie that has everything in it, but what pushes it to the top here is how effortless it all is.
#7: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
This is one of those populist takes that earns everything, man. On the heels of the improbable and definitely bad fifth outing, we need to look at the original, which cooked all the nostalgic pulp serials of the filmmakers' childhoods into a nostalgic movie for our own childhoods. It's such a fun examination of how you can make a bad movie if you just make a good movie. Like, there's deus ex machina here, it's the same film whether Indiana Jones is in it or not, and even the ultimate reclamation of the ark is fruitless. But it's such a fun adventure! We don't give Harrison Ford enough credit for charisma-ing his way through this thing and giving us such iconic wonder.
#6: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1968)
Call Clint Eastwood the Harrison Ford of the 1960s. He also does nothing here, really. But a simple story about finding some lost gold and trying desperately not to be a western turns into one of the best Westerns of all time. Do we have that today? Will Deadpool 2 (2018) be considered one of the best superhero films because it tries so hard not to be? It centers around the three principal characters from the title and just spins those three into a fantastic adventure. The tension derived entirely from editing in the ending Mexican Stand-off might be one of the best ever, but beyond that the vistas, the West, the SCORE, every single choice is the stuff of legends.
#5: Barry Lyndon (1975)
It's hard to pick just one Kubrick (I ended up picking two Spielberg, which I totally overlooked). Eyes Wide Shut (1999) is up there for me, as is The Shining (1980), both of which exist so well as pure cinematic experiences. I have a soft spot for films that use the medium of film to enhance their story. The Shining is brilliant at this, and if you don't believe me, watch Stephen King's adaptation of his own work to see just how wrong you can get it. But at the end of the day Barry Lyndon shines above all for its attempt to just be the movie version of a Baroque painting. There are more pretentious attempts, some that I really enjoy like The Mill and the Cross (2011), but Kubrick always had the guts to present his subjects as dirty and genuine as possible. This tracks Raymond Barry's journey from insignificance to elite society and back. Again, to be on his list, it's not enough to just be a great screenplay, which favors these sorts of long epic films to fully develop each theme (this movie looks like a painting and has the character trajectory of a book but uses the language of film), but also is a huge landmark for literal filming (using lenses from NASA to capture the natural lighting in indoor scenes), and all of this adds to the experience. It's firing on all levels.
#4: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Perhaps our most unlikely entry on this list. You might make a case for all these, but not enough folks are continuously talking about Into the Spider-Verse. Dude this movie is perfect. We can talk about how it's the most comic-book looking movie of all time, a literally pitch-perfect voice cast, a somehow authentic and fresh take on one of the oldest and most tired Superhero stories, all with genuine humor, in-jokes, complex set pieces, comic mischief, and nods to iconography. But the best movies are all about character and the entire point of this film is about how Miles Morales can genuinely find his character and stand out as himself in a sea of other Spider-Men. The content of the film is identical to the context of the film, standing out across a sea of other superhero stories, Spider-Man in particular. And it looks fantastic! And the mechanisms of its animation are used for jokes, character growth, and story enhancement! This does everything! People need to take this movie more seriously, as yes, something that stands aside Seven Samurai, bro.
#3: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
You understand this movie from the first ten seconds. Literally. Ten seconds into this movie you know all you need to know about Max and what the entire movie is about. Fury Road does not get enough credit, man. This thing is so good. And this is all screenplay stuff! There isn't dialogue, which makes it harder to recognize but again, it's using the pure medium of film to tell a remarkably simple story. Go to the Green Place. Come back. Why do they come back? Well that's all theme and character. The screenplay helps the characters. The characters are informed by the setting. The setting enhances theme. Theme drives the cinematography. Cinematography tells us about the story. It's fucking amazing, man. There might not be a more cogent and coherent unified film on this list. And we're not even getting into the action set pieces or the Doof Warrior. Do all this and be funny and thrilling!
#2: Goodfellas (1990)
Alright, fine, I don't know if my nostalgia is getting in the way with this one. But every time I watch this it's just perfect, man. And it's all character. A classic story of rags to riches, but ruthlessly selling one's soul to do so. Henry Hill does seem to always know he's on the edge, and he never kills anyone himself in the film. But it's all ephemeral, because he's not really a gangster, no matter how much he wants to be. But all those gangsters he wants to be end up dead or alone anyway. So he's deluding himself. But by the end he's corrupted and unsatisfied. It's the most twisted spin possible on the American dream. I haven't talked much about acting here, I don't know, to me acting always comes second somehow, except for charisma. I mean, Marty, There Will be Blood, and even in their own way, Good Bad and Ugly, and Raiders are fueled by acting. But this one really is it. And it needs to be, since it's really just about these machinations of wannabe gangsters. But of course it's full of these iconic scenes and lines, too. Like every scene is unreal. I want to watch this again.
#1: JAWS (1975)
Maybe it's not JAWS. Haha, I know, I'll instantly undercut my own list. My genuine favorite movie is probably How High (2001) or Blue Streak (1999), but like, when you get down to filmmaking, it just has to be JAWS. It's another film where you know instantly what the deal is. And it delivers on that deal, consistently and thoroughly. It's such a foundational film. The art of Quint bumping against the science of Hooper with Chief Brody caught in the middle. It's a surprising structure for such a big movie. For the genre it launched, can you believe that a film would settle into a hunt film for the second half, whittling its characters down to three? It's brutally efficient. More efficient than a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. There's an endless amount of metaphors, from government inaction, to the ineptitude of police, to changing family dynamics (the looming irony is that the Brodys moved out of the city because of crime to the safer haven of Amity). It's got everything but you can also turn that all off and enjoy a shark movie. I always liked how the shark just seemed like an inexplicable dick, definitely targeting these drunken boat idiots for no reason. That was always my appeal. But this film does so much more, bridges the auteur era to the blockbuster era, landmark special effects and cultural sway, and most importantly, Larry Vaughn's jacket. I'm all over it.