Today is my 26th birthday. 26 isn't normally a big birthday. I normally don't even make a big deal out of my birthday, save for jokes about a birth month celebration I insisted on like a diva in high school. I got to thinking how I could commemorate the occasion and stumbled on something that made me happy: Best Of lists. There will be three annotated lists that provide insight into how my pop culture/entertainment tastes work. They're standard categories, but the results are anything but ordinary.
To arrive at my Best Films of All Time list, I had two criteria. 1) Do I enjoy the film? 2) Is it actually a well-made film? There are amazing films that didn't make the list because I don't particularly enjoy them, and there are films that I love that didn't make the list because they're pretty darn terrible. Maybe I'll do a Best Worst Film list one day so things like Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Attack of the Giant Leeches get their day to shine.
The films are not ranked beyond their inclusion in the list. Let's get started.
Rosemary's Baby: Featuring an impressive cast (including never-better Mia Farrow) and a screenplay that I consider one of the greatest book to film adaptations of all time, Rosemary's Baby is still one of the most suspenseful and disturbing horror films of all time. Many have tried to dig into the pregnancy and religious horror well dug by Roman Polanski and few have ever come this close to succeeding. Best moment? The Scrabble tile reveal.
Gin Gwai (The Eye): Am I ever not praising The Pang Brothers for their intentionally derivative commentaries on the horror genre? The answer is no. Gin Gwai (The Eye) is their masterpiece. Angelica Lee gives one of the greatest performances in the history of horror cinema. The effects are startling and, best of all, almost every scene is done in brightly lit rooms or in natural light. Best moment? The violin concert/exorcism.
Jezebel: Bette Davis nails every note of this performance as the woman damned for her pride. Jezebel features a grand score, beautiful cinematography, and costumes that will make your jaw drop. Best moment? The singalong with the slaves on the back steps.
Cat People: Val Lewton produced his masterpiece with this subtle creature feature. Simone Simon and Kent Smith are perfectly matched in this tale of doomed romance. No matter how you read the story, it's haunting and gorgeous. Just look for all the cat shadows and imagery throughout the film and tell me it's not planned within an inch of its life. Best moment? The swimming pool.
The Birds: My favorite Hitchcock film. There are better-made films with more believable plots, but this is the one that sticks with me. The effects work even if the technical methods are absurdly outdated by modern standards. The fact that we're forced to side with a group of horrible characters in a unified front against the merciless birds is perfection. Best moment? The schoolyard.
Network: What can I say about this near-prophetic look into the future of television media? The performances and screenplay are flawless. The sound design is superb. And it's funnier than it has any right to be. Best moment? The introduction of Laureen Hobbs.
My Fair Lady: What a loverly film. Lerner and Loewe's brilliant score has never sounded better. This film is all about design and image, narratively and visually. There is not a single pen out of place on screen. Best moment? The horse race.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?: What happens when Hollywood refuses to believe that a film starring two older actresses can succeed? The director is given liberty to cast the best person for even the smallest roles in a film. ...Baby Jane? is a masterclass in acting from all the performers. They turn twisted melodrama into heart-wrenching excitement. Best moment? The phone call to the liquor store.
Dumbo: As far as I'm concerned, this is Disney's masterpiece. The score is exquisite and the animation subtly changes style throughout to best tell the story. The film is over in under 70 minutes and feels like you've spent a lifetime with the characters in the best way possible. Best moment? "Baby Mine."
Pan's Labyrinth: Sharp, imaginative, gruesome, and heartbreaking, Guillermo del Toro's risky period fantasy uses the landscape of the Spanish Civil War to delve into the mind of a child facing insurmountable change. The cast, makeup, costumes, and visual effects haunt me to this day. Best moment? The thin man.
Noriko's Dinner Table: This is a horror film for people who claim they hate horror films. Not a single drop of blood is shed. There is no serial killer or even a ghost. There is just a family falling apart at the seams and diving further and further into a bizarre underground business of rental relatives. Best moment? Noriko's first job.
12 Angry Men: The quintessential courtroom drama. I don't think anyone had imagined that jury deliberations could possible be this engaging before this film was made. The quest for justice has never seemed so rewarding on film. Best moment? The glasses.
A Clockwork Orange: Stanley Kubrick made a lot of bizarre films. None resonated with me as strongly as A Clockwork Orange. This bizarre sci-fi/horror film about trying to control the uncontrollable instincts of out of control youth still sends a chill down my spine. Best moment? The retraining.
The Lives of Others: How about a nice espionage thriller where seemingly nothing happens until everyone's world is torn apart? This surprise Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film is methodically paced and edited to perfection. Best moment? The first wiretap.
Freaks: This is the film I struggled the most with in compiling the list. It's flawed. It's incomplete in its current form. It killed a rising Hollywood director's career. Yet it works even in its abridged form. Either watch it as a documentary about the lives and skills of real circus performers or watch it as one of the strangest revenge films ever made. Best moment? The wedding banquet.
Blazing Saddles: Is there anything new I can say about this film? It's a perfect send-up of Western conventions by master satirist Mel Brooks. Madeline Kahn's brilliant Oscar nominated performance as German lounge singer Lilli Von Schtupp is merely the icing on the cake. Best moment? Telegram for Mr. Mongo.
The Usual Suspects: Talk about a masterclass in suspense. Despite telegraphing its surprise ending from the very first scene (in a good way), The Usual Suspects is a mind-bending look into career criminals centered around the mysterious identity of Keyser Soze. Best moment? The first line-up.
The Umbrellas of Cherboug: Featuring one of the most beautiful sung-through scores in the annals of musical history, The Umbrellas of Cherboug is a bittersweet French musical romance that you'll never forget. For anyone who says musicals can't be believable, this film shows the opposite. The characters sing everything, but nothing grand happens in their lives. It's daily struggles set to music. Best moment? Snowfall.
Cabaret: Bob Fosse takes a difficult stage musical and turns it into a brilliant cohesive film. The entire cast is great, though it is always nice to point out that Liza Minelli and Joel Grey give career best performances as lounge singers during the rise of Nazi Germany. Best moment? "Money."
Idioterne (The Idiots): Idioterne (The Idiots) is the second film in Lars von Trier's "Golden Heart" trilogy, where women are willing to sacrifice everything in the hopes of achieving a better life. Unlike Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, this film is upsetting without causing a sense of dread on an attempt to rewatch it. The concept is ridiculous--a group of adults philosophizing the benefits of mental retardation--but the execution is revelatory. Best moment? The last visit to the house.
Night of the Living Dead: Many have tried and, as far as I'm concerned, none have surpassed the brilliance of George A. Romero and John A. Russo's Night of the Living Dead. Set almost entirely in a small house while the zombie apocalypse unfolds, this tight horror film puts its emphasis on character development and human nature, not gunning down zombies and viscerally shocking the audience. When the violence escalates, the film has already earned the action. Best moment? The basement.
Videodrome: Where Network telegraphed much of what we now know as reality TV, David Cronenberg's Videodrome warned against the voyeuristic medium in this surreal nightmare. Featuring a fantastic performance from James Woods and disturbing effects, Videodrome is a must watch film for how effortlessly Cronenberg combines horror, science fiction, and social commentary into a compelling hole. Best moment? Nicki's leaving for a TV show.
Blow-Up: Michelangelo Antonioni's brilliant meditation on the nature of obsession is not a film you can easily shake out of your system. The central conceit--a photographer using photo enlargements to try and solve a crime--is iconic in pop culture for good reason. Best moment? The mimes.
Babe: There is nothing wrong with a cute family film as well made as this one. Babe's screenplay is flawless. The performances are great and the visual effects used to give the real animals voices are perfect. Best moment? The song and dance.
The Sea Inside: I wanted to include an experimental film on this list that gains its power from visuals and context. None do it better than The Sea Inside. I feel like I was played by a virtuoso from the first to the last frame of the film. Best moment? The outdoor family visit.
Harold and Maude: I also had to include a straight up cult film on the list. This film is funny, heartfelt, and beautifully made. It's a strange little love story that doesn't overstay its welcome and never takes the easy road with its plot. Best moment? The tree heist.
So there you have it. The 26 Best Films of All Time as listed by me, arbitrarily and without internal rank, based on a whim that could change five minutes from now. Any surprises? I believe my reputation would have suggested far more horror films than appear on the list. Sound off with your own thoughts.