The Phantom of the Video Aisle


The Phantom's all-time top 10 1/2 films:


1. The Magnifcent Ambersons (USA 1942). Citizen Kane is the obvious choice, and certainly not a wrong one, but in many ways I think that Ambersons is Welles' best film--even with the sugary studio-shot ending. The cast is flawless, the photography brilliant, and the themes of change responsibility resonate just as much today.

2. Casablanca (USA 1942). Often but erroneously saddled with the term "romantic," this is actually an anti-romance. It tells us there are greater goods than our own feelings. Most of today's movies teach otherwise--such as Casablanca's moral opposite, The English Patient.

3. O Lucky Man! (Great Britain 1973). Marx meets Voltaire via Looney Toons. Director Lindsay Anderson's masterpiece about a contemporary Candide who loses his smile. Actors change identities, the landscape becomes increasingly bizarre, and Alan Price sings the Greek chorus (in one of cinema's finest sound tracks). Dig that pig in the hospital.

4. The Seven Samurai (Japan 1954). Ah, today's action directors. They're MTV lapdogs who edit like blind hyperactive chimps. Somebody needs to sit them all down to watch Akira Kurosawa's epic, a fluidic blood poem infinitely more daring than what modern nitwit filmmakers make millions regurgitating.

5.The King of Comedy (USA 1983). You'll forever remember the name Rupert Pupkin after this, Martin Scorcese's best work. Sly, perceptive script and stunning performances from Robert DiNiro and Jerry Lewis (!).

6. The Exterminating Angel (Mexico 1962). Dadaism and surrealism, let's be honest, never amounted to much, but one unqualified genius was produced: Luis Bunuel. Angel was Bunuel's finest hour, though Simon of the Desert runs a close second. Let's eat!

7. The Seventh Seal (Sweden 1957). If there is any greater film image than Max Von Sydow's knight playing chess with Death, then by golly I haven't seen it. Call Bergman pretentious if you want, but he's one of a handful of directors who makes movies driven by real ideas.

8. Psycho (USA 1960). This is, in many ways, a random choice. Many Hitchcock films could fill a top 10 spot--Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train. But I've decided to include only one film from each director in this list (hence no Citizen Kane), and Psycho wins because who else but Hitch could pull a great performance from Anthony Perkins?

9. Duck Soup (USA 1933). It is easy to overlook just how sharp an edge the Marx Brother's humor had. The Coconuts, quaint today, was a devastating satire of the Florida land speculating that precipitated the Depression. When the Marx Bros. brought us Duck Soup, Europe was tumbling into chaos and Hitler had seized Germany, America was still nursing wounds from WWI and slogging through a Depression. Few Americans wanted war, but Duck Soup warned that it is as inevitable as human stupidity.

10. The Third Man (USA/Great Britain 1949). There has never been a greater movie villain than Orson Welles' Harry Lime, and there's never been a greater speech than Lime's to Joseph Cotten at the Vienna amusement park. 

10 1/2. The Wrong Trousers (Great Britain 1993). I believe it was Roger Ebert who called this the most perfect 30 minutes of film ever, and I'm inclined to agree. Charming and droll as only the Brits can be. We should put a statue of Wallace and Gromit on the moon.




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