Neil, an American friend, and I recently struggled over
dinner to come up with our personal lists of ten-best films.
The first difficulty was definition. Were we talking American films, or British,
or both? What about foreign-language and
silent films? And were our lists required
to achieve some kind of balance – at least one western, say, or one musical –
or reflect an entirely random selection?
To resolve those issues, I decided to come up with two
lists, American and British, both random. Foreign-language films, several of which would
be in my international top ten, have been excluded, as were silent films, which
suffer obvious disadvantages. On the
basis of these arbitrary rules, and after injecting a fair dose of willful whimsicality,
here is what I came up with, culled from comprehensive lists published
respectively by the American and British Film Institutes:
Citizen Kane; The Godfather;
The Godfather II; Singing in the Rain; Chinatown; Some Like it Hot; Red River;
Cabaret; The Maltese Falcon; Nashville.
The Third Man; Brief
Encounter; Great Expectations; Kind Hearts and Coronets; Don’t Look Now; The
Ladykillers; The English Patient; Oliver; The Cruel Sea; The Life of Brian.
I told you it was whimsical. That might explain the absence of any work by
Ford or Hitchcock. I admire a number of
their films, but I find even the best of them uneven, somehow always a little
The Searchers, Ford’s most praised and incessantly analyzed
western, has some wonderfully staged scenes, but I find its theme and at times
its plot confused, and the leavening horseplay, endemic to many Ford’s films,
has recently vaulted to first place on the latest BFI list, but I find it dull
and talky. North by Northwest is far more fun.
A couple of Ford and Hitchcock titles would get into a
top twenty list, as would Sam Peckinpah’s The
Wild Bunch and Steven Spielberg’s comic horror Jaws, and Huston’s The Man
Who Would Be King, and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.
But the rules are the rules, and ten it must be. Over to you, Neil.