Now this is a great list. Despite leaving out Rififi, The Godfather, and his own Goodfellas.
Ten best lists of films are dumb. They force dumb choices and add almost nothing to serious discussion and criticism.
I love them. I love reading them. I love making them. And here is how I go about it.
At any given time I always have a list of contenders. If a film has any claim whatsoever on ever making it into my top ten, it goes on the list. Then, one by one, I cross out films until there are only ten left. These are the films that I most enjoyed watching, not those that I would necessarily rank as the highest expressions of the craft. Having said that, it is almost certainly the case that my contenders are overwhelmingly well crafted. But to make my top 10, I have to viscerally and emotionally love the experience of watching the film.
Important: “Love” does not mean that I found the experience pleasant, just that I reveled in the pleasure of watching a story told with narrative skill and total command of the formal elements of film.
The best example of a film that embodies all these confusing criteria is my favorite of them all, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog.” I suppose you could say I enjoyed watching it, but if you have seen it you will understand why “enjoy” is perhaps not quite the most apt word for the experience. What, after all, do you say about a film in which one of the very best of the sections (#1 I Am the Lord Your God) was so emotionally shattering that I have only watched it once and almost certainly will never be able to watch it again?
So here is the list as of today. If a film has a number, it made the top ten. The reasons why a film didn’t make the top ten are varied and, most often, beyond rational explanation. My choices are infinitely more visceral than cerebral.
By the way, I have a separate documentary list, which I will post soon. Salesman, although a documentary, is a work of such poignancy and genius that it would make any list I create.
I very much hope you might post your ten best lists and describe your agreements and your quarrels with mine. Perhaps you think that either an omission or inclusion of mine is unforgivable.
Let me know.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
1. Dekalog (1989)
Au Revoir les Enfants
Shop on Main Street (1965)
10. Midnight Cowboy
It’s a Wonderful Life
3. Jeux interdits
8. Rear Window
Invaders from Mars
Strangers on a Train
2. Godfather 1/Godfather 2
9. Double Indemnity
Les Enfants du Paradis
Le Salaire de la peur
6. Night and Fog
The Third Man
The Marriage of Maria Braun