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Article – Greatest Movie Of All Time?


Posted April 30, 2016 by

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Greatest Movie Of All Time?

How many times have you heard the term ‘greatest movie of all time’ or ‘essential viewing for all film students’? During an open day at the University of Aberystwyth two years ago I heard one such proclamation referring to Citizen Kane. The wonders of the film personally fell flat on me, though I could see why some people love it. The movie is breathtaking to look at and I couldn’t stop examining the lighting and camera composition, but the story baffled me no matter how many times I watched it. While all judgements are subjective, here are 7 pre-millennial films I have seen commonly mentioned in this way that I believe are absolutely worthy of their accolades.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The power conveyed despite this film’s simplicity cannot be understated. This is a deeply moving story of resilience, loyalty and redemption and for this reason is one of my favourite films of all time. It doesn’t require innovative filmic techniques to make an impact, but the story alone does the work.

It pulls no punches in presenting us with the horrific reality of life inside prison, complete with its truly corrupt authorities. We see the full range of the human character, showing no person is black and white, and surprisingly that the people locked up display more signs of decency than those detaining them.

Powerful performances from Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins carry the film from its opening to closing points, both understated, directing attention towards the colourful supporting characters, all the while cunningly distracting us from the activities that build to the grand twist at the end. And the reveal is simultaneously so brilliant and witty that it’s extremely difficult not to react when you watch it. The ending may seem saccharine to some but it forms a feel-good conclusion to what could at times be a dispiriting story. For its ability to pull the heartstrings alone, I believe it is worthy of all the praise it receives.

Psycho (1960)

The father of the slasher genre and I believe, the best. This film continues to affect me as I’m sure it did people at the time of release. It’s a true innovator in the world of filmmaking. The iconic shower scene has become such a standard in cinema that it borders on cliché, but there is a reason this scene struck a chord in the first place.

As well as its groundbreaking techniques, this film introduced a trope that had not been explored much – the idea that the murderer could be the person you least expect. Psycho draws the audience in through a series of ‘MacGuffins’ (narrative red herrings), encouraging us to empathise with the protagonist, Marion, and become invested in her plight over the stolen money and her wish to marry her divorced boyfriend, only to have her brutally murdered 30 minutes in. The tone shifts dramatically as we suspect the seemingly innocent Norman of disturbing acts. Typical of Hitchcock the film relies not on gore but on suspense and the genuine acting ability of the cast. Techniques may have evolved, but Psycho continues to horrify and compel years later, which is why it deserves its place among the greats.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick in the late 60s, this film is a wonder in its power of foresight. Innovative techniques and minimalistic set pieces make it difficult to believe Kubrick and fellow writer Arthur C Clarke didn’t actually take a trip to the future when producing this work. 2001 attained a sense of timelessness that not even the 80s sequel could achieve – probably because cluttered 80s décor went out of fashion quicker than 60s art deco.

This film stands out for me as one that pays no heed to the conventions of Hollywood films; particularly those made nowadays that cater for short attention spans. As is Kubrick’s style, the film uses one extremely wide long take after another in a way that, as long as you switch off your computer, put away your phone and block out all other distractions, transfixes you until you completely forget you’re not in space. The result is jarring and the final act as we travel to ‘Jupiter and beyond the infinite’ is one of the most terrifying cinematic experiences I have had. This is an incredible feat for its time and not something I can see being pulled off in quite the same way since.

American Beauty (1999)

A satirical, and deeply cynical look at American society. This film reflects with brilliant acerbic wit the worst of what domestic life could be. But what starts out as a hilarious cast of stereotypical characters, turns into a nuanced and emotional observation of the human condition, the message being ‘nothing is ever what it seems’.

The use of mise-en-scene (visual language conveyed through anything on screen) is beautiful; the red of the front door, the white of the picket fence and the deep blue of the sky embedding the concept of the American Dream into almost every image, and the recurring presence of red rose petals produces a powerful sense of passion.

The end of the movie moves me deeply every time and is on a par with the end of the Shawshank Redemption, although with a more bittersweet edge. Stirring soundtracks from Thomas Newman, containing notably similar strands of music, aptly hold both films together. There are few films that so tightly interweave haunting reflections on life and black comedy as American Beauty does and I admire it for that.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Another movie by Stanley Kubrick – and this was the first I saw. An unsettling film to watch – uncomfortable for some, and understandably not everyone’s cup of tea – but I was so affected by the moral dilemmas it raises that it remained with me ever since.

The story falls in two halves, the first showcasing the foul antics of the protagonist and his ‘Droogs’, the second taking a sharp turn and offering some incredibly challenging points. It certainly makes you question your morals as you identify with the sadistic guy but I believe if not for the graphic nature of the first half, the second half would not be as powerful. Many people I know maintain a justifiable aversion to the movie but I believe it was ahead of its time with a powerful message to share and was unafraid of upsetting society in doing so.

The film caused such uproar upon release that the director banned it on the grounds of the death threats he received, but since his death it has gained a new appreciation, suggesting society has simply adapted and is ready to accept that beyond their comfort zone.

The Seventh Seal (1957)

An unusual one, and not the most widely known. This discovery was brought to me by a cinema buff in a film group I was a part of for five years. This boy’s extensive back catalogue of viewing could put anyone to shame, and when he brought this up as a possible screenplay adaptation for one of our video projects he was met with a few blank stares.

As it happens, this is a thought provoking and haunting piece of work. Directed by one of the forefront European directors of the 20th Century, Ingmar Bergman, this film has mixed reactions particularly from modern audiences due to his ‘talky’ style. It’s Swedish spoken and I refuse to watch dubs if I can help it as I don’t like to lose the original line delivery, though for some it could pose a challenge.

Depending on your outlook, this is either incredibly depressing or an optimistic picture of hope for the future amidst dire circumstances. For me it’s the latter. The film tells of a knight recently returned from the Crusades to find his homeland in the grips of the Black Plague. Arriving on shore he bumps into the Grim Reaper, presumably ready to carry him to the afterlife, but instead the knight challenges him to a game of chess in return for the chance to explore the meaning of life.

The film is beautifully shot and makes profound points that some consider pretentious. The pacing may be slow but the gypsy family’s subplot is sweet, as is the comic relief, and if you give it the time it is definitely worth the watch.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Of course the film with one of cinema’s most notorious cereal killers besides Norman Bates has to make it to the list. The Silence of the Lambs is incredibly chilling, especially in its portrayal of Hannibal with an iconic performance from Anthony Hopkins. We feel as trapped and vulnerable as trainee FBI agent, Clarice Starling, following her on her mission to unearth information on the cereal killer Buffalo Bill with the help of cannibalistic psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter.

The performances are definitely the driving force, but the dialogue is intelligent and suspense created by the subdued lighting and camera placement is intense. A worthy giant in the crime/thriller genre.

My mission to watch as many of these movies as I can is far from complete. I have yet to see the many Quentin Tarantino films I hear about and my mission to devour Hitchcock’s and Kubrick’s filmography is going strong. Not every film other people like will match your taste but I discovered there are countless gems begging to be discovered if only after a search.

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Abigail Robinson
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One Comment


    I’d nominate Twelve Angry Men (1957) as the most perfect film ever – which may not be exactly the same thing. The claustrophobic setting, all in one room apart from the start and end an the intermission half way through, the beautifully portrayed characters that span the full breadth of (white, adult, male) society, the weather, the human drama, and of course the motif of one person in the right place being able to make a difference. If ever there was a film that needed an update – if you don’t count The Breakfast Club.

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