Top 10 Films of All Time

P. Nelson Reinsch

Warning: this list is hopelessly weighted toward the 1980s. The '80s were not a particularly good decade for film, yet it is the decade in which I came to love the movies, not to mention that '80s films are almost always available on video. To my mind, there's no use telling you to run out and see anything you can not locate because there is plenty that you can find that you should see. And on that note, I confess that this list is also hopelessly weighted toward American (that is, U.S.) product, because these are the films that video stores � chain and local � in the U.S. always carry. Films are listed alphabetically.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980) / Star Trek II: the Wrath of Kahn (1982) / Flash Gordon (1980) / Aliens (1986)
Four big, widescreen comic books. Flash Gordon is too silly, Star Trek II is too serious, Empire is too George Lucas, and Aliens is a shade too long, but all four are great fun and have soundtracks worth owning. Of course, the sound effects, special effects, and production design are all impressive (even now). These are films (mostly) for boys who dream of flying to the stars and shooting bad guys with laser pistols.

Forbidden Games (Jeux interdits) (1952)
A war film that does not show war, a trait it shares with Jean Renoir's The Grand Illusion. Directed and co-written by Rene Clement, it's perhaps not as dignified as Renoir's film, but more emotionally involving and a stringent denouncement of war.

The General (1927)
Buster Keaton's Civil War film is plotted with such precision it reminds one of an expensive watch. The Great Stone Face is funny in films like Steamboat Bill Jr., but this film fully demonstrates the creativity of the greatest silent film comedian.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
This Frank Capra film is the most cynically life-affirming film ever made. Folks who claim to hate this film secretly cry when they watch it. James Stewart is perfectly cast as the Everyman who worries he has missed out on life only to find out that his life has indeed been wonderful.

The Ninth Configuration (1980)
This may be the definitive movie-you-have-not-seen-but-should. William Peter Blatty (author of The Exorcist) writes and directs this ridiculous film about Stacey Keach in charge of an asylum, conveniently housed in an old Castle. The endlessly quotable dialogue almost distracts you from the unfolding story.

Raising Arizona (1987)
Joel and Ethan Coen's hyper screwball comedy features Nicolas Cage as a would-be reforming robber and Holly Hunter as his police officer wife. Cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld (who went on to direct movies himself) seems to be almost throwing his camera around the set (with the Coens, he developed the famous "baby-cam" shots, to show infants-crawling POVs). The film also features some of the most astoundingly madcap dialogue ever, such as when Cage says, "I found myself driving by convenience stores that weren't on the way home."

Robot Monster (1953)
This film stands on its own, but also represents the dark underbelly of cinema: the B-movie. These days, "independent film" is an almost useless label (since Miramax and other once-marginal-now-mainstream studios have made it big business to be called "independent"). But the "B" film has always demonstrated that real people can get into the film business: all you need to make a film is a camera, some film, some friends, a gorilla suit and a diving helmet � though the helmet is optional.

The Shining (1980)
If this Stanley Kubrick adaptation of the Stephen King novel was filmed in German rather than English, critics would hail it as an intelligent and endlessly thought-provoking horror film. They should anyway. On a personal note, this film also scared some boys who watched it and many other movies in Vernon's storm shelter a long long time ago.

Swing Time (1936)
I can imagine what you're saying and you're right, the comedic moments are dated and forced. But Fred and Ginger float across the screen and the songs are lovely. Along with Gene Kelley, these two can convince "nonbelievers" to spend a few hours with Hollywood musicals.

Vertigo (1958)
This is the one film on this list that's likely to be many other lists appearing at this end-of-the-millennium. This obscenely beautiful nightmare features James Stewart and Kim Novak as the lovers who will never be together. Perhaps Hitchcock's most personal film, it's the one where the villain disappears and you don't even notice. The cinematography is luminous (particularly after the restoration) and Bernard Herrmann's score is perfect and haunting. The closing scene and final shot are stunning; each certainly stands as one of the best in the history of film.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.