And That’s Why Goonies is the Greatest Movie Of All Time

Over at Crooked Timber, John Holbo is discussing BFI’s Top 50 greatest films of All Time list. Like any such list, it’s subjective, peculiar, and bound to cause howls of outrage.

John does make an interesting observation though, that overwhelmingly, the top ten picks all come form the 1950s and 60s:

Is it sufficient to say that film critics – like all conservatives – have to pick a Golden Age that is sufficiently far back in time that they can imaginatively confiscate it for themselves, in effect constituting themselves as elite appreciators of what others do not; but recent enough that it has some damn plausibility. (As in investment, being seriously too early is the same as being wrong.) The spikes we see on the graph are akin to the average conservative American’s sense that the 50’s and early-to-mid 60’s were pretty great; then it all went to hell and now things are desolate and bad. But there is also the outlying, more severe conservative view that we have to go back further to find anything good. Before 1929.
I’m also reminded of something that old adman Gossage wrote, about ‘the shape of an idea’: “Imagine that a person sits in the center of a circle that represents his comprehension. He can comprehend anything within the perimeter, but the farther it is from the center the fainter his ability to criticize it will be. However, anything outside the perimeter is beyond his comprehension; he won’t criticize an idea placed out there because he simply won’t know what you’re talking about. So the trick is to place an idea close enough in so he gets it but far enough out that he’s not able to flyspeck it, only accept it.” Would it be too unkind to suggest that critics probably pick their Top 10’s by analogous operation? (Obviously I’m just saying that critics are incorrigible hipsters and coolhunters of the past. Duh.)
On the other hand, maybe film was just better before Star Wars; George Lucas (and Spielberg) ruined everything forever.

I have to agree. It’s boomer critics being boomers. For a film to make this list it needs to meet one of three requirements:

  1. Be fondly remembered from childhood (which as we all know, ended in 1963)
  2. Be fondly remembered from film school
  3. ?Be made later than 1966 but not after 1996 and evoke nostalgia for 1 or 2

So, yes. Subjective. But just for fun, here’s my top 10 list, (in no particular order):

  1. Some Like It Hot
  2. Charade
  3. Blade Runner
  4. Casablanca
  5. North By Northwest
  6. The Princess Bride
  7. Back to the Future
  8. The Royal Tenenbaums
  9. Close Encounters
  10. The Brothers Bloom

The qualifier being, that if you were to put any one of these movies in the DVD player, I would stop what I was doing to sit and watch them with undivided attention. You’ll note that I, being a product of Gen X,* have moved my Golden Age up to the 1970s and 80s with a few outliers from before my time, which I of course saw as a child on much-worn VHS tapes (I could watch Some Like it Hot just about any old time) and a few more recent choices as well (if you haven’t seen The Brothers Bloom you are missing out. It’s by the same director who did Brick and the upcoming Loopers).

And just to pick a fight on the internet:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is Spielberg’s best film.

It encapsulates all of his major reoccurring themes (life in outer space, father issues, mistrust of authority figures, obnoxious children, every-man confronted by the weird) without letting anyone of them steal the show. Plus it treats a numinous experience that contains mythic undertones without promoting an agenda. It glories in ambiguity, which is something few of Spielberg’s later films bothered with. Sometime in the 1980s he decided that everything had to have a clean edge, which is when he lost his.



*You’ll also note that I have committed the ultimate blasphemy as both a Gen Xer and a Science Fiction geek by not including any of the Star Wars movies on my list. Even though I still enjoy the original trilogy (and recently even acquired a copy of the theatrical versions I grew up with through means of dubious legality)  George Lucus, by meddling with his films to the point of breaking them, has been disqualified from inclusion. Perhaps in a few years, after Lucus has kicked off, and we can enjoy the films as intended, without his god awful special edits, they will make it onto the top 20.