I just Googled the phrase “the world’s great equalizer,” and the magical dwarves of the Internet pulled their little levers and kicked back search results that included sexual pleasure, sleep, traffic lights, public education and Calvinism.
Nonsense, I say. Nothing levels the playing field quite like the world of movies. Everyone watches them, everyone enjoys them, and even those people who don’t enjoy them love to criticize them.
(Some would say food is the obvious choice as the ultimate equalizer, but food is too divisive. There is no universal opinion on food unless you’re eating poop. No one likes to eat poop.)
Movies are the best form of entertainment because they appeal to the masses regardless of age or any other factor. They tell stories (sometimes great, sometimes not-so-great) in tidy, two-hour compartments, and there are pretty pictures involved, too. What’s not to like?
That’s the most half-assed analysis of movies in the history of humanity, but this isn’t meant to be the least bit academic. Instead, it’s an indirect way of getting to a very necessary discussion about the best films of all time.
It’s a topic that has consumed me for about two months. I’ve known for years which movie I consider to be the best of all time, which one is my favorite and which are in my all-time top 10.
But I needed a way to quantify – at least in my mind – which ones fit in the Best Movies Ever category. So I came up with one.
I rank movies on a scale from 1 to 10, and what constitutes a 10 is a movie that prompts me to say, “That’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.” How many times have you ever said that about a film? My guess is it’s a lot more than you’d initially think.
I sat down to tally all of my 10s, and the first draft of my best-ever list contained 97 movies. I told my wife, who immediately chastised me and said it was “way too many.” My oldest brother and sister-in-law said the same thing. I don’t value their opinions, but they were somewhat right: I needed to be stricter.
Thus, I devised a very primitive formula to rate the elements that must be in place for a film to be considered among The Best Movies Ever. Not every 10 has to be the best example of each category, but it needs to max out in four of the six. They are:
1. Story: I’m a writer, so I value this element above all else. Take me on a journey. Make me forget I’m watching a movie for two hours. (Examples: “Fellowship of the Ring” and “Slumdog Millionaire”)
2. Acting: Bad acting can ruin an otherwise good movie, and a stellar performance can erase other mediocre elements. (“Rain Man” and “As Good As It Gets”)
3. Durability: It’s great from start to finish, and it stands up over time. (“Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Casablanca”)
4. Watchability: A movie that you’d want to watch time and again. (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Good Will Hunting”)
5. Cinematography: I’m not a film expert, but I fully understand the difference between standard Hollywood fare and a true cinematic, artistic gem. (“Amelie” and “Saving Private Ryan”)
6. The X Factor: A film that just does it for you, whether it’s based on nostalgia, originality, controversy, quotability or that it’s the standard-bearer for its genre. (“The Matrix” and “Young Frankenstein”)
Armed with my formula (I won’t bore you with the details), I whittled down my list and finished with 77 that I consider to be The Best Movies Ever.
You might still say that’s too many, but I disagree. So kiss my grits.
The Best Movies Ever
American History X
As Good As It Gets
Best in Show
Catch Me If You Can
Dan in Real Life
Dances with Wolves
Do the Right Thing
‘Do the Right Thing’
The Family Stone
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
A Few Good Men
Field of Dreams
The Godfather: Part II
Good Will Hunting
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’
It’s a Wonderful Life
Kill Bill: Vol. 1
The King’s Speech
Lars and the Real Girl
Life Is Beautiful
The Lion King
Little Miss Sunshine
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Lucky Number Slevin
Meet Joe Black
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Princess Bride
Saving Private Ryan
The Shawshank Redemption
The Silence of the Lambs
So I Married an Axe Murderer
Stand by Me
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi
Stranger Than Fiction
There’s Something about Mary
‘There’s Something about Mary’
The Sword in the Stone
The Usual Suspects
V for Vendetta
When Harry Met Sally