Tom’s Top 10 Movies
Definitive, All-Time Worldwide Top Ten Movies Independent of Time or Place*
1. Night of the Living Dead . Flesh eating slowpokes stopped only by destroying the brain, cinematic gore, nudity, low-budget Italian horror films, and the synthesized rockin’ stylings of Europe’s own Goblins—none might have ever come into being without this seminal horror film with the classic, improvised line, “Yeah, they’re dead. It offered a critique family norms and the saccharine boy-girl loves stories of the time and even racial prejudices in a film about dead cannibals (the word “zombie” nowhere used in this first film) the same year that Oliver! won Best Picture….. Little known fact off the top of the dome: Richard Matheson novel I am Legend served as inspiration for Romero and Russo’s writing. I am Legend has been adapted to the screen three times, first with Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (1964), then with Charleston Heston in Omega Man (1971), and most recently Will Smith in the upcoming I am Legend (2007). Rarer fact, the Dead Trilogy ended with the third film Day of the Dead (also being remade); Land of the Dead, despite popular conception, is no the fourth film of a quadrilogy but, rather, a piece of crap.
2. Touch of Evil (1958, Orson Welles). America’s most amazing tub o’ lard not only adapts for screen and directs but, as he was wont to do, stars in this black and white film with the best openings (finally restored) ever put to celluloid. Welles even gained weight for the role if memory serves correct, which, like De Niro after Raging Bull will affirm, is a horrible idea. But the fat suit so common to our generation’s privileged excesses in movie making was not invented until Mrs. Doubtfire (a little known and patently untrue fact) and digital effects at the time meant finger puppets. This movie’s also great for its final line delivered by Marlene Dietrich (“But what does it matter what we say about people.”) and for Charlton Heston’s inadvertent strides to ending blackface in film.
3. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock). If you didn’t get enough of Janet Leigh during the not-so-graphic rape scene of potheads bopping to Bop (or some subgenre of funky jazz) in Touch of Evil, then you can see more (and almost a nipple) two years later in Psycho’s risqué shower scene. More than the iris-drain match cut or the great use of dolly and stairs and overhead camera shots and Anthony Perkins as one sexy lead male, the pacing of this film’s magic. In a seen not even halfway into the film, the first-billed starlet dies just as we were eroticizing her, and so the story suddenly shifts from robbery movie to slasher. That’s what makes this a top-ten film and a marker of film history, though the cinematography helps. As Van Sant proved, you can’t make a better film, even if you shoot it shot-for-shot.
4. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969). Like Touch of Evil, this Western set in the closed frontier has the best opening of any film (proving that the best not only means #1 but also that there’s room enough in a Top 10 List to share being the best). And a great buddy film and, more subtly, a great anti-Vietnam War movie with its WWI parallels, making Ernest Borgnine’s line (“Giving your word don’t count.
5. Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975). Another great buddy film with amazing characters such as Sal (played by John Cazale who just looks funny), the protagonist’s partner in the movie’s bank robbery, who thinks Montana’s a foreign country (who knew it was still a state?). While its characters are comedic, they’re treated humanely—even Sonny’s (sexy, young Al Pacino) surprise “wife”—with cries of Attica from the (out of the closets, into the) streets. And for whatever it’s worth and whatever the term means, it’s “based on a true story.” And its ending with Sonny pressed up against the hood the police car has the same effect as the endings of Wild Bunch (freeze frame and bullets), Psycho (the fly on Bates’ hand), Touch of Evil (Welles somehow managing to float, Dietrich’s line), and, how can we forget, Night of the Living Dead (whitey’s mistake and the series of documentary photos).
6. Brazil (Terry Gil, 1985). Another great ending (if you skip the unsuccessful original release version that thankfully, like Blade Runner’s, is all but obsolete) and opening sequence (mother pushing a strolling past a store’s storefront display of televisions that explode) and, by far, Gilliam’s best work with a look (aside from the dream sequences) that’s amazing, proving you don’t need a large budget as long as you have an imagination, dolly, and long corridor to redecorate and reshoot. You might remember Terry as the naked pianist in or as animator for Monty Python. I’d like to remember him for this film.
7. Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965). Because Goddard’s parody of the single genres, like Une Femme est une Femme’s of the romantic comedy and Contempt’s of a love story, are spot on in their inversion of conventions, I have to reward the risk he takes trying to combine science fiction with the hardboiled. Unlike Dark City, there’s no big gimmick. The film’s just the dreamlike reality of film’s own unreality. So what if he fails? It’s still better than David Lynch’s nonsense, most of Bresson’s meditative films, and better than anything Truffaut was shooting at the time. These are, people, the ten best films of all time, you know, what you’d take on a deserted island that had a climate controlled theater. You’ve gotta take one that you can watch over and over again for its flaws.
8. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940). A movie that proves that there was once a time when movie actors could walk and talk at the same time. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell putting on one hell of a show. An excellence taste of Howard Hawks’ no-nonsense sensibilities in filmmaking before he met John Wayne and the two were married by the House Un-American Activities.
9. Miller’s Crossing (Coen Brothers, 1990). I wouldn’t trust a top ten list by anyone born after 1975 that didn’t include at least one Coen Brothers’ flick. They’re masters of the fisheye close-up and pacing for comedic effect (see kid stealing the toupee), and while Hudsucker Proxy does rank a close second for its firecracker dialogue, His Girl Friday takes Proxy’s cake (and Hudsucker Proxy lacks Coen Brother mainstay John Turturro, who’s great throughout Miller’s crossing as the slime ball malinger who knows the angles). The movie’s intricate, full of turns, and warrants two watchings to keep up, then two more to appreciate what you were too busy the first two times to see. Plus, it combines and adapts two Dashiell Hammett novels. ‘Nuff said.
Wait, wait, you might be saying to yourself or saying aloud for somehow thinking I can hear you (like the winners in darken theaters who think the person projected on the screen can hear you say, Oh, no, don’t…), there’s only NINE. That’s something new I’m trying out. I’m calling it the Thomas Ten. It’s like a baker’s dozen, but instead of getting one more, I gyp you one less (apologies to gypsies; I love Emir Kusturica’s films). Besides, I think I’ve covered most my basis through time and genre, so I’m curious what I’ve forgotten. 2001: A Space Odyssey? Should that really replace Alphaville? Looking back, I regret not having von Trier’s The Element of Crime or Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.
But instead of expecting more from me, a stranger, maybe you should give some of yourself back and help your fellow humans out by making your own Top 10 with a full nine plus one. Who knows, maybe if you do there’ll be an extra doughnut next time you buy a box.
Please be advised that the films categorized under Definitive, All-Time Worldwide Top Ten Movies Independent of Time or Place are not listed in preferential order. Though each was individually chosen by unanimous decision this morning while I pretended to check email at work, this list is not exhaustive and is subject to modification due to the vagaries of its sole author, Thomas Logan. Additionally, this list may not adhere to the strict metric system of numbering. Last and definitely least, the absence of other caveats and stipulations should not indicate their absence.