PW's Film Critics List Their Top 50 Films

By Sean Burns and Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 4 | Posted Nov. 22, 2011

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The Godfather (1972) Duh. The Corleone saga has been absorbed into our national bloodstream by now. There are so many catchphrases that have become shorthand, particularly when attempting to communicate with adult men of a particular demographic. Still, what a picture! So sweeping, so absurdly entertaining! And yet in the end, so ruthlessly pessimistic. (S.B.)

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) Chantal Akerman’s study of a single mom (Delphine Seyrig) is three and a half hours of menial house chores: Four-minute takes of potatoes being peeled are par for the course. Time evaporates and the mundane becomes fascinating; when she drops a spoon late in, audiences gasp in unison. (M.P.)

Husbands (1970) Three guys go to their best friend’s funeral, and then don’t go home for three days. Writer-director John Cassavetes’ most rambunctious, off-putting picture stars Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and the filmmaker himself as lifelong pals on a ridiculous bender clowning, boozing, talking trash and picking up broads. Anything to keep from confronting the inevitable. (S.B.)

In the Loop (2009) I could watch this profane, His Girl Friday-type shit for the rest of recorded time. Let them eat cock! (M.P.)

In the Mood for Love (2000) The apex of Wong Kar-Wai’s brooding romanticism is this Brief Encounter -ish tale of furtive love between two wallflowers (Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung) whose spouses are having an affair. Chris Doyle’s towering cinematography depicts ’60s Hong Kong as a hermetic prison closing in on our would-be lovebirds. (M.P.)

La Dolce Vita (1960) It begins with a statue of Jesus dangling from a helicopter and ends with a sea monster washed up onshore. In between are three hours of self- contained anecdotes in which we see Marcello (Mastroianni, in his most iconic role) slowly losing his soul to the decadence of Rome’s lush life. Beautiful, and almost unbearably sad. (S.B.)

Louisiana Story (1948) Nanook of the North and Man of Aran may be more famous, but Robert Flaherty’s “docufiction” about a Cajun boy living in oil country is his most ravishing. The B&W photography is so high contrast, the blacks look like oil. Like all of Flaherty’s work, it creates beauty out of the natural. (M.P.)

Love Me Tonight (1932) The Ernst Lubitsch musical Ernst Lubitsch never quite made, Rouben Mamoulian’s spunky shape-shifter finds dazzling ways to shoot each moony number. These range from the restlessly ambitious “Isn’t it Romantic?” to a song that plays out entirely over Maurice Chevalier’s face as he sleeps. (M.P.)

Man With a Movie Camera (1928) After a spell cranking out quasi-experimental news documentaries, Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov decided to cram all his progressive ideas about cinema into one film. Thus, this peerless whirling dervish, set amidst the chaos of urban Ukraine and a feature-length test reel for the exciting things cameras and editing can do. (M.P.)

A Matter of Life and Death (1946) Started as Britain’s answer to The Wizard of Oz, this idiosyncratic spectacular from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, with David Niven as a WWII pilot left accidentally alive after a battle, became its own beast. Rich and strange. (M.P.)

My Darling Clementine (1946) The squarest and loveliest of John Ford’s westerns stars Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp, arriving in Tombstone and forging an unexpected alliance with Victor Mature’s tubercular Doc Holliday, just before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. We’ve seen this story a dozen times since, but never again with such quiet, unassuming grace. (S.B.)

Modern Romance (1981) Stanley Kubrick was reportedly a massive fan of Albert Brooks’ pitch-black comedy, in which a monstrous film editor breaks up with his girlfriend, freaks out, gets her back, then suspects her of infidelity. It’s the anti-Woody Allen film, in which neurosis is evil, not cute, though still funny. (M.P.)

Nashville (1975) Every time I watch Robert Altman’s sprawling, kaleidoscope of American life at the bicentennial, I always discover something new bustling in the background. Not sure I can even tell you what the movie is even about, save for a glimpse at the entirety of human experience simultaneously disappointing and rising to unexpected occasions. It’s that massive. (S.B.)

The Naked Spur (1953) For five westerns with Director Anthony Mann, Jimmy Stewart was an asshole. The finest finds Stewart duplicitous, ruthless and sweatily pathetic as he tries to nab the bounty for a bandit (Robert Ryan) who, compared to Stewart, is reasonable. (M.P.)

Out of Sight (1998) After three years in DIY exile (yielding the incredible Schizopolis ), Steven Soderbergh returned to Hollywood with a vengeance. His idiosyncratic interpretation of an Elmore Leonard mediocrity is digression-heavy, character-driven and lousy with tonal shifts, color changes and flashbacks—and then there’s that Don’t Look Now-inspired sex scene. (M.P.)  

Pierrot le fou (1965) With his marriage to Anna Karina on the rocks, Jean-Luc Godard made this survey of an impossible love that’s by turns silly, colorful and broodingly romantic. Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo run off to the South of France, creating a bubble that’s bound to spectacularly pop. (M.P.)

Raging Bull (1980) The ultimate expression of Martin Scorsese’s tortured Catholicism, Robert De Niro’s Jake La Motta takes vicious beatings in the ring, because he understands how much he earned them in real life. This is a punishing experience, two exceedingly violent hours spent with a sick man spiraling downward. But it’s impossible to shake Scorsese’s empathy. (S.B.)

Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) Steven Spielberg at his most playful, but Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay is the secret weapon. Every character arrives with a complicated backstory and prior relationships more hinted at than explained. Their entire lives have been building up to this adventure, which is why other movies feel so anemic in comparison. (S.B.)

Rocky (1976) Above all else, a great love story. Forget the steroidal sequels and watch how our lonely palooka latches on to pet shop wallflower Adrian. They’re both banished to the far corners of the frame, growing in stature as the picture progresses. I love how even after that final fight, he’s concerned because she lost her hat. (S.B.)

The Rules Of The Game (1939) “The awful thing about life is this, everybody has their reasons.” So goes Jean Renoir’s immortal, heartbreaking farce set on a lavish French country chateau on the eve of World War II. Pitiless, yet oddly sympathetic at the same time, Renoir proves that clear-eyed humanism need not be an oxymoron. (S.B.)

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1. Todd Kimmell said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 09:51AM

“The fun of running The Lawn Chair Drive-In since the late 80s isn't just seeing great films full screen... it's hearing and feeling the laughs and the gasps and the groans and the cheers of an audience all around you as we all share that collective experience of being spellbound in darkness.

Some films, like WITHNAIL AND I and ALL THAT JAZZ are worthless on television. They just don't make any sense... yet they come alive on the big screen.

Thanks for the list. While I consider myself a 'film guy' of sorts, there are more than a few here I haven't seen, and will seek out, and maybe show next summer!”

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2. Todd Kimmell said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 09:52AM

“The fun of running The Lawn Chair Drive-In since the late 80s isn't just seeing great films full screen... it's hearing and feeling the laughs and the gasps and the groans and the cheers of an audience all around you as we all share that collective experience of being spellbound in darkness.

Some films, like WITHNAIL AND I and ALL THAT JAZZ are worthless on television. They just don't make any sense... yet they come alive on the big screen.

Thanks for the list. While I consider myself a 'film guy' of sorts, there are more than a few here I haven't seen, and will seek out, and maybe show next summer!”

Report Violation

3. Casper the Friendly critic, here said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 03:55PM

“You Lost me in the D's, although I did have protests along the way starting with, er, "A"

Dr. Stangelove is timeless, brilliant satire, relevant and human.”

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4. Scott said... on Nov 24, 2011 at 08:05AM

“I don't mean to sound like a jerk, but Matt's selections were way more interesting.”

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