There really couldn’t be any other list to close out FilmsFilmsFilms than a roll-call of my ten favourite films of all time. If you love films as much as I do you know that choosing just ten movies is a monumentally difficult task. I just about managed to chip away at the mountain of favourites, and with a little bending of my own rules came up with a selection of my desert island, couldn’t live without, could watch at any time, top films. I can’t imagine there are any film fans out there who haven’t seen these picks, but here, for the final time, are ten more films to add to your ‘to watch list’, set out below not as a countdown, but chronologically. These movies really are something special.
If you’re looking for an objective method for identifying the best film ever made, you could do worse than drawing up a list of filmmaking categories and seeing which movies scores overall the highest across the board. Acting, directing, cinematography, soundtrack, design, marketing, cultural impact would make up a fairly broad but all encompassing list. Scanning across these categories there is a good argument that no film would score higher across all of them than Steve Spielberg’s Jaws. Masterfully directed in the most torturous of circumstances, Jaws had one of the best ensemble casts of the era delivering some of the best performances. No film had a bigger impact culturally, singlehandedly creating the summer blockbuster movie season film fans have enjoyed each year ever since. It also has the best soundtrack of all time; not the best in terms of popping the CD on to listen to when cooking your dinner, but the best in terms of what it brought to the film. A good soundtrack should add to a movie, and no soundtrack gave more than John Williams’ chillingly simple Jaws film. Spielberg stated that it was the shark he didn’t have when the real one he was trying to get to work was sinking in frigid Atlantic waters. All of this is true of course, but the reason I love Jaws so much is that it’s simply one of the best fright films ever made.
The horror movie is my favourite genre, and within that the slasher movie is my favourite sub-genre. As such this entire list could have been made up entirely of slasher movies from the golden age of the slice and dice movie (1978 to 1984). John Carpenter’s Halloween wasn’t the first slasher film, but it was the first to make a mountain of cash at the box office. Imitators were hastily assembled and an army of cheaply made slasher pics threatened to run all other movie fare out of theatres. There were very few that could hold their own against Halloween though, a perfectly paced, perfectly pitched, perfectly acted, perfectly directed, and perfectly soundtracked fright delivery system that created a whole new suburban fear (the babysitter / teen in peril). As the recent woeful reboots showed, without a genius director at the helm slasher films fall on their faces quickly. Halloween may have been cheap to make, but that didn’t mean creating another slasher masterpiece would be easy. The fact that Carpenter's masterpiece is still the best slasher film of all time is a testament to that.
The first of the Zucker Abrahams Zucker comedy features, Airplane! was a brilliant spoof of the disaster genre that had taken up residence at theatres across the nineteen-seventies. The ZAZ formula was to the flood the screen with jokes of every kind, be they slapstick, visual humour, or silly word play, to such a degree that if the audience didn’t like one particular gag there would be another one along seconds later to try again. So many of the jokes in Airplane! landed though. The first time I saw it, I could barely breathe by the end of the film I was laughing so hard. It was also the comedy debut of the superstar of deadpan, Leslie Nielsen. A seasoned actor by then, ZAZ cast him for his straight delivery of the films more serious dialogue; he was the Captain of the ill-fated SS Poseidon after all. As Dr Rumack he practically stole the movie with memorable line after memorable line, and at age 54 had a huge and well deserved career renaissance as a comedic performer.
THE TERMINATOR (1984) / PREDATOR (1987)
Before I was old enough to appreciate a much wider array movie offerings my Saturday nights were spent feasting on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s back catalogue. With the exception of his soppy comedies like Twins (1988) and Junior (1994), I loved everything he did. Again, this list could have been filled exclusively with Arnold films and I’d have been happy. Choosing a favourite proved an impossible task so I cheated and went for the amazing double-bill of The Terminator and Predator. The former is a stunning low-sheen sci-fi masterpiece, with Arnold offering a genuinely scary villain in the form of an unstoppable future android hell-bent on destroying the equally compelling Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton. The latter is possibly the greatest action film of all time, as the best assemblage of movie bad-asses gets decimated by one of the most well-designed film villains in Hollywood history. For once Arnold was much smaller than the foe he had to overcome, and brains finally had to join brawn for him to win the day. In both roles Arnold had to park his towering charisma and showcase his acting chops, something most reviews look past. In particular, many unfairly sad that because Arnold couldn’t act he made for the perfect murderous robot; in truth the opposite is true, with a huge amount of skill required to strip yourself of all humanity. The T-800 might just be his best acted role to date.
BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984) / BEVERLY HILLS COP II (1987)
If I wasn’t spending my Saturday nights during childhood in the company of the Austrian Oak, I was running around American cities with every buddy-cop duo of the eighties. Cop action movies from the decade were like great nights out, with car chases, shoot-outs in nightclubs, scantily clad woman with massive eighties hair, and soundtracks crammed with top songs from the era, all to keep you thoroughly entertained. My favourite two films from this sub-genre were the twin Beverly Hills Cop movies (we don’t speak about the terrible third film). In the first film wisecracking, ass-kicking Axel Foley had to work to befriend the uptight LA detective duo of Taggert and Rosewood, while in the second the trio had become firm friends, reuniting to take down another Los Angeles villain. Eddie Murphy, Judge Rheinhold, and John Ashton made for the best cop combo of the era, and the action set pieces marshalled by directors Martin Brest and Tony Scott were edge of the seat stuff. Steven Berkoff, Jurgen Prochnow, and Brigette Nielsen were a hoot chewing scenery as the villains, and the soundtracks were chock full of the best pop and funk of the eighties. For pure Saturday night popcorn escapism there are no two finer films.
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)
If Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption had continued with the tone is displays in the first thirty minutes, it probably wouldn’t be on this list. But thankfully King’s original novella and Darabont’s film slowly builds joy, despite the grimness of its setting, right up to what is the most satisfying and gloriously happy denouement in cinema history. Its Hollywood folklore now that Darabont added the scene at the end where Red and Andy meet on the white sands Zihuatanejo, knowing full well that viewers would be desperate to see the life-long friends reunited. But even King said the adding this coda was the right thing to do. Even though I’ve seen the film numerous times over the years, each time I see the film it still feels like there’s an element of doubt over whether Andy will get away with his escape plan, such is the brilliance of Darabont’s direction and Tim Robbins acting. As such the delight over Andy’s escape never diminishes and it’s a heart-warming to watch now as it was twenty-eight years ago.
By the time I was fourteen I realised there a lot more to movies than just explosions and car chases (as fun as they still were); a great acting performance can be a joy to behold in itself, and as I started reading up on the best actors two names came to the top of the all-time-greats list, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. As luck would have it, the pair were about to make film fans dreams come true and go head to head in an epic crime drama from director Michael Mann. A reworking of his earlier made-for-television film L.A Takedown, Heat saw Pacino’s never-say-quit detective come up against De Niro’s career thief. Knowing that the on-screen meeting of the pair would be the centrepiece of his film, Mann made viewers wait for well in to the one hundred and seventy minute run time before delivering on the promise. It was worth the wait, and the late night café chat the pair have was electrifying. Around this though, the greatest ensemble cast of all time acted their socks off to deliver the best crime thriller ever made. When my older sister and I exited the cinema after seeing Heat (thankfully our local old-school picture house weren’t bothered about checking identification for age restrictions) my perception of films and cinema had been blown wide open. I began devouring films in every cinematic genre from then on and I haven’t stopped since.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001)
Choosing your favourite Lord of the Rings film is like choosing your favourite child. But whilst there are undoubtedly great moments in The Two Towers and Return of the King, whether it’s the Battle of Helms Deep, the lighting of the beacons, or “you bow to no one”, the best of the trilogy for me remains The Fellowship of the Ring. I had no knowledge of Tolkien or Middle Earth before seeing Peter Jackson’s film, but I did have an interest in all things fantasy, often flinging magic or swinging swords in my Fighting Fantasy game-books or Zelda computer games. I was lucky to go in with a blank slate and no expectations; the film was staggering. Having yet to be tied in to the wider Middle Earth war that the second and third film has to deal with, the first movie has the best blend of light moments and serious turns; there’s no happier moment in the films than Biblo’s birthday, and arguably no sadder moment than Boromir’s death, “…my brother, my captain, my king”. How this lost out on the Best Picture Oscar to A Beautiful Mind, god only knows. The closest any movie has come so far to knocking my favourite film of all time from that number one spot.
THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
There was solid potential in Batman Begins (2005), though it was kept from greatness by being weighed down with detailing Batman’s origin story. It of course teased the next film with Commissioner Gordon revealing a single Joker playing card. Freed from having to explain Batman as a character, Christopher Nolan could use the full run time of The Dark Knight to tell a crime story worthy of the World’s Greatest Detective. A hero is only as good as his villain though, and I’ll admit to having large reservations over the casting of Heath Ledger. I was more than happy to be proven wrong though, as Ledger delivered perhaps the greatest villain performance of all time. There was logic to his Joker, the logic being he had no logic, it was all random chaos. The haphazard nature of his actions thus made them fair, with anyone and anything up for grabs. Importantly, Bale held his own, avoiding the trap Keaton had previously fallen in to by being blown of screen by Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Surely a movie of this astounding quality deserved a shot at the Best Picture Oscar? The film wasn’t even nominated; The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button was though. And the Academy wonder why no one watches their annual back-slapping extravaganza anymore.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) / AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
Another slight cheat, there really is no dividing the two Avengers films that wrapped up Marvel Studios huge ten year run of comic book movies. Infinity War was a masterful action blockbuster culminating in a jaw-dropping finale which made it this generation’s Empire Strikes Back. Fans hoped that the final part of the saga wouldn’t do a Return of the Jedi and rope in a gaggle of small furry bears to save the day. Endgame of course sidestepped this pitfall easily. But before it got to the mother of all cinematic battles it took time to deal with the grief caused by Thanos’s masterplan coming to fruition at the end of Infinity War. Neither film is perfect. The characters supposedly killed off by Thanos already had spin-offs films and shows announced so you knew they were all coming back. The trick to defeating Thanos also relied on the oh-so convenient time travel plot device. These are small niggles though, and the payoff for Marvel taking its time building their cinematic universe was that the emotion punches landed all the more sweetly when they came. Along with the likes of Jaws and Star Wars, these two Avengers films now stand as the pinnacle of blockbuster cinema.
So there’s the ten. But wait, there has to be one more surely. My favourite film of all time? A film of such high quality if needs a special mention outside of the ten. If you’ve been a keen reader of FilmsFilmsFilms over the years, you’ll already know the answer to that one …
What more is there to say about this terrifying thrill-ride masterpiece? Despite being twelve when I saw it, I knew I’d seen the greatest film I would ever witness in my lifetime. You’d think that would be a bad thing, with all subsequent movies paling in comparison. The opposite is true. I’ve had many years to revisit this amazing film. And after twenty eight years and many plates of cornbread I still love it.