I was recently asked to take part in a poll of critics and fans about the 50 greatest movies of all time. The results of the poll are here, and my list is here. You may notice that Citizen Kane isn’t on this list. Do I really believe that all 50 of these movies are better than Orson Welles’ masterpiece? I don’t know, but I wanted to see if I could make such a list without it. (Or, for that matter, Gone With the Wind or Casablanca.) It turns out I can.
In the meantime, I’ve got a couple of other movie lists for you. I did a list this time last year of the 10 best movies released between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008. Now I’m doing the same for the period between last July and this past Tuesday. For refreshers, here’s my Top 10 list from last year. The July 1 cutoff date disqualifies WALL-E, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Reprise, and Bigger, Stronger, Faster*. With that in mind, the top 10 movies of the last 12 months are:
1. Adventureland. Oh, look what’s at number one! Greg Mottola’s luminescent coming-of-age flick deserved way more of an audience than it found in theaters, and merits a look when it comes out on DVD. The lead actors are in tremendous form, but it’s the insights in the script that make this a prize winner.
2. Slumdog Millionaire. A bit of backlash followed this movie’s Oscar win. This article by Dennis Lim does a nice job of separating the wheat from the considerable chaff when it comes to criticism of this movie. Yet there’s no denying the bounding energy and zest of this Indian fairy tale.
3. The Dark Knight. There was some speculation that the movie (which launched a thousand YouTube parodies) was cut out of the Oscars because our cultural anxieties that made it a hit last summer were swept away by the wave of hope from the presidential election. It’s an interesting theory. Heath Ledger is still disturbing.
4. Rachel Getting Married. Jonathan Demme’s polarizing drama remains too difficult to take for some viewers. If you had any doubts about Anne Hathaway’s acting ability, this movie should lay them to rest.
5. Sugar. The best sports movie in some years is Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s drama about a Dominican baseball pitcher suffering from culture shock in the minor leagues in rural Iowa. Hollywood could learn from this.
6. Coraline. The expanded Oscar field had everyone talking about a Best Picture nomination for Up. Meanwhile, everyone is forgetting about Henry Selick’s gorgeous and superbly skin-crawling adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel. Am I the only one who thought this was the better animated film?
7. Up. Okay, so I’m not made of stone.
8. Happy-Go-Lucky. Mike Leigh’s film improves on further review, and it really seems criminal that Sally Hawkins got no love from the Oscars. (She deserved the statue way more than Kate Winslet did for The Reader.)
9. Pineapple Express. I never could resist movies that are more than one thing, and David Gordon Green’s anarchic film is stoner comedy, male-bonding exercise, and action thriller all rolled into one.
10. Star Trek. I think Let the Right One In should be here, but between that and Coraline, I’m afraid of exceeding my quota of creepy movies about kids. So J.J. Abrams’ fantastic piece of popcorn cinema gets the last slot.
Honorable mention: Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, Guillaume Canet’s Tell No One, Gus Van Sant’s Milk, Peter Sollett’s Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, John Hamburg’s I Love You, Man, Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity, Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale, Andrew Fleming’s Hamlet 2, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon, Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django.
And since Woody Allen’s Whatever Works is out in Grapevine this week, I’m responding to Owen Gleiberman’s rankings of Woody’s movies with my own list. I haven’t seen Another Woman, September, What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, or Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), so they’re not here. Note the dates on these films, and you’ll see a wildly hit-or-miss career. There’s a preponderance of movies from this decade near the bottom of this list, but there’s also enough near the top to keep him from sliding into irrelevance.
1. Manhattan (1979): Rapturous black-and-white love letter to his hometown, replete with complicated love stories. You’ve got to have a little faith in people.
2. Annie Hall (1977): Classic moments all over the place, with Allen breaking out new comic techniques that still look fresh today.
3. Bullets Over Broadway (1994): The best of his movies about being an artist vs. being a moral person, this fizzy period farce about a gangster-turned-playwright is tasty stuff.
4. Husbands and Wives (1992): Searing vérité drama features tremendous performances by Judy Davis and the late Sydney Pollack.
5. Deconstructing Harry (1997): A polarizing entry in Allen’s body of work, but his portrait of a misanthropic writer is a ruthless examination of his own flaws.
6. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986): Allen’s biggest popular hit, this overly cozy comedy nevertheless finds Allen at his warmest and most humane.
7. Zelig (1983): The This is Spinal Tap of Allen’s canon, this mockumentary about a chameleon-like man is a dazzling exercise in technique.
8. Love and Death (1975): Woody’s intellectual and slapstick sensibilities combine fruitfully in this romp through 19th-century Russia.
9. Match Point (2005): Allen’s best thriller, a frigid, stripped-down Hitchcockian exercise with curlicues of existential angst, plus hot sex with Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.
10. Sleeper (1973): We forget that Woody in his younger days was a nimble physical comedian. This sci-fi comedy best showcases his slapstick skills.
11. Sweet and Lowdown (1999): Sean Penn manages to avoid imitating Woody as an actor, and gives one of his greatest performances.
12. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008): A sexy and funny sojourn in Spain, with the drool-worthy cast looking almost as good as Barcelona.
13. Bananas (1971): There were other comedies at the time about Yanks finding trouble in South America, but this is one of the better ones.
14. Broadway Danny Rose (1984): Broad farce about a showbiz agent trying to dodge the Mafia. Whatever happened to Nick Apollo Forte?
15. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993): Woody reunites with Diane Keaton, and the banter between them is so effortless, it’s like they were never separated.
16. Take the Money and Run (1969): The first glimmer of Allen’s all-around comic talent appears in this early work.
17. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1988): Everyone seems to think this is one of Woody’s masterpieces, but I find it sententious and heavy-handed.
18. Everyone Says I Love You (1996): Cover your ears when Allen and Julia Roberts sing, and cover your eyes when they have sex. Still, this musical is worth a look purely for its oddball value.
19. Small Time Crooks (2000): Undistinguished comedy is lit up by Tracey Ullmann’s performance as a wife whose social climbing instincts lead to trouble.
20. Mighty Aphrodite (1995): Mira Sorvino and the Greek chorus are terrific, but they still can’t cover up the thinness of the premise.
21. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985): The story of a movie character who steps off the screen into real life is put to disappointing use, even if Jeff Daniels is great in the role.
22. A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1981): Allen tries to make comedy out of Bergmanesque setting, but Sondheim did it better in A Little Night Music.
23. Alice (1990): Eminently forgettable farce about a woman who drinks an invisibility potion.
24. Hollywood Ending (2004): Woody plays a movie director who tries to keep doing his job after going blind. The only memorable joke is the one at the very end.
25. Radio Days (1987): A pure soak in unrelieved nostalgia for Allen’s youthful days. It’s not unpleasant, but if you weren’t around in the 1930s, it won’t say much to you.
26. Interiors (1978): Woody tries to be Ingmar Bergman, but his inexperience shows in this unsubtle, overly tasteful domestic drama.
27. Whatever Works (2009): See my review.
28. New York Stories: His segment of this triptych (“Oedipus Wrecks”) is the best one, but it’s still just an overblown Jewish-mom joke.
29. Cassandra’s Dream (2007): Overdetermined and overdone tragedy about two English brothers caught up in a murder plot.
30. Melinda and Melinda (2004): A rickety experiment about two similar stories told for tragic and comic effect. A movie with Will Ferrell and Steve Carell should be funnier.
31. Stardust Memories (1980): You know how it is when a rock band becomes rich and famous, and then spends their next album moaning about how awful it is to be rich and famous? This movie’s kind of like that.
32. Celebrity (1998): Leonardo DiCaprio lights up this Fellini pastiche for about 10 minutes, then the film sinks back into tired insights about fame.
33. Scoop (2006): Scarlett Johansson inadvertently imitates Woody’s mannerisms in this messy comedy with ghosts, a murder mystery, magic acts, and an English lord.
34. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001): Gruesome period farce, with Charlize Theron having absolutely no clue how to play a femme fatale.
35. Anything Else (2003): Actually, the stuff with Allen and Jason Biggs isn’t too bad, but everything involving Christina Ricci as a promiscuous girlfriend is way off.
36. Shadows and Fog (1991): It turns out that the only thing drearier than Woody Allen imitating Fellini or Bergman is Woody imitating Fritz Lang, in this gorgeous but incoherent exercise.