There is much debate about which are the greatest films ever made. I was lucky enough to receive the Japanese classic Ugetsu directed by Kenji Mizoguchi this Christmas, which is considered one of the greatest but not even close to the top ten greatest films according to most sources. So I decided to take it upon myself to do a bit of research into the opinions of those past and present to determine what in fact are the top ten greatest films in history. Of course this is all subjective and one man's Ugetsu is another man's Forrest Gump so I understand that this will not matter in the least to some and will cause angry denunciation from others. In a way a list is sort of ridiculous when considering ALL films since it is very hard to determine the better of a silent Russian film like Potemkin and a 21st century, computer animated film like The Incredibles. In my personal opinion they are both important and amazing achievements in their respective genres but pretty much impossible to compare or rank with one another.
There is also the problem of judging a film on many different levels. Some may evoke an emotional response whereas others are technically brilliant but wouldn't make it into anyone's "favorites" list (at least if they are honest!) I have decided to rank my personal favorites to show that they are nothing like the list I have found to be the "greatest" from purely a scientific (albeit flawed science) and objective ranking of films based on the "expert" opinions of hundreds of critics, directors, and more. I have taken into account the AFI lists which obviously do not include non-American films. The average score for foreign films will come from a smaller pool but are not unfairly penalized for their omission from the AFI lists. The AFI lists are only used to determine the placement of American films along with their respective placement in other international polls such as Sight and Sound which is considered the most definitive. I have also used the most recent poll from Total Film magazine to get an average. So here is the result of my flawed science:
1. Citizen Kane
Number one for nearly half a century on every Sight and Sound poll and every other reputable poll on Earth including both AFI polls. I have gotten tired of trying to defend its greatness to those who have only watched it ONCE!!!! There is no other piece of art I know of which requires more study to appreciate than Citizen Kane. I must have watched it ten times before I really started to see what's so amazing about it. It is in my top ten and gets better with age. It may not be my "favorite" film but I agree it is the best ever made.
2. Fellini's 8 1/2
The Director's anthem. A personal journey into the creative process, the madness of making films, the best movie about making movies (with Truffaut's Day For Night not too far behind) and Italy's greatest film.
3. The Rules of the Game
Coming in third by the narrowest of margins this Jean Renoir classic tops the critic's choice lists just behind Citizen Kane as the best movie ever. This social satire set in a country manor is easy to enjoy and is the greatest film in French cinema history.
4. The Godfather I and II
Since it has become common in the Sight and Sound poll to combine the two classics (and leave out the third, ha ha!) I have done the same here, but because the two have ranked separately in the past the aggregate score is lower than it would be for the original film. Oh, well, I try. Honestly wrestling with which of the two is best is too hard anyway.
Consistently over time Alfred Hitchcock has been voted at or near the top of every "greatest directors" list and this is considered his masterpiece by a huge consensus. After missing the top ten in 98, AFI put Vertigo at number 9 in their 2007 edition. It is appreciated even more internationally and made the 2002 S&S critic's poll at #2 behind Citizen Kane. Bernard Hermann's eery score and one of Jimmy Stewart's best performances make this one a classic.
6. Seven Samarai
Along with Kurosawa's Rashomon, which is also frequently named in top ten lists, this is Japan's greatest film. The inspiration for the American western The Magnificent Seven this is Akira Kurosawa's most enduring classic which runs the gamut of emotion and action and ironically was inspired by the classic American westerns of John Ford. With Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura anchoring a great cast this one never gets old. And it is also in my top ten!
7. Tokyo Story
Yasujiro Ozu's masterpiece has mostly gained critical acclaim over the last two decades. A slow, emotional film (Ozu's hallmark) which examines family relationships. Beautifully done, but probably not the kind of film many Western audiences would appreciate.
8. Raging Bull
Martin Scorsese at his best and Robert DeNiro in not only the performance of his career but one of the best in cinema history. James Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life is still the greatest ever in my opinion, but DeNiro as Jake LaMotta is not far behind. If you've never seen it be warned, very strong language and one ugly temper!
9. Singin' In The Rain
Number One musical ever made according to AFI and the best according to every other movie list you can find. Gene Kelly's masterpiece and the one he is most remembered for with a captivating story about making movies (seems to be a theme here!) and some of the best dancing ever captured on film. I've heard the "Moses Supposes" dance sequence is the best in movie history. I dunno, I ain't much of a dance expert but it does look pretty fast to me.
10. Lawrence Of Arabia
David Lean's crowning achievement. Apparently Lean said "let's go out into the middle of the desert with a bunch of unknown actors and make an epic" or something like that. He did pretty good for himself as this won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1962. Peter O'Toole is excellent in his film debut. This one has influenced many films and directors over the years, Steven Spielberg in particular.
Just for the heck of it here are a couple of great films that just missed the top ten.
11. 2001: A Space Odyssey
12. The Searchers
Both John Ford's and John Wayne's best film and the number one Western of all time.
My personal favorites
2. O, Brother Where Art Thou?
4. It's A Wonderful Life
5. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
6. Citizen Kane
7. Bottle Rocket- Duh!
8. Seven Samarai
9. Annie Hall
10. The Night Of The Hunter