Tuesday, October 25, 2005

THE GREATEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME?



"The Greatest Movie Of All Time-- does that amuse you? Do you find that funny?"

Total Film, a British magazine which, as far as I can tell, is a would-be Empire (itself a snarky hellspawn of America’s Premiere and Entertainment Weekly magazines) has seen fit to release its own 100 Greatest Movies of All Time list. True, nobody’s gonna mistake this list for Halliwell’s Top 1000 Films or a British Film Institute/Sight and Sound critics poll. Still, you can feel the nods in the direction of such lists all the same by noting the number 6, 7 and 10 entries (Citizen Kane, Tokyo Story and His Girl Friday). But nods is all they are—the big honors are reserved for such serious fanboy favorites (and undeniably grand movies) as the The Lord of the Rings trilogy (#9), The Empire Strikes Back (#8), Fight Club (#4) and Jaws (#3). But I have to roll my eyes to the back of my skull over Total Film’s pick for number-one Greatest Movie of All Time, Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas (Total Film's sub-headline: “Er, it’s GoodFellas… you can go home now…” Like, what else, dude?)

If you didn’t know that GoodFellas was the Best Movie of All Time, well, that’s probably because you don’t subscribe to, or even thumb through, Total Film or Empire or any of these other like-minded, glossy, overly enthusiastic publications. If you didn’t know it was the Greatest Movie of All-Time, maybe you still think it's great, but at the same time suspect there might 400-500 worthier titles to consider for such grandiose coronation. Maybe you think, as many do, that it’s a fine film but perhaps not top-drawer Scorsese. Or maybe you think, as I do, that it’s a dazzling but intermittently effective drama that collapses in its third act right along with the sensibilities of the cipher at its center, Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta). That as many as five films that probably would be at home in a more comprehensive collection like Halliwell’s or the critics and directors polls generated by the BFI are on Total Film's list is, frankly, a bit of a shock—it’s hard to imagine the Red Bull generation of film fans that constitute Total Film’s readership having much patience with Tokyo Story, a movie the editorial staff of Total Film was probably largely unaware of before Halliwell made its splash in June and named it number one over Citizen Kane. That very historical consensus would make them look foolish for excluding familiar old Kane itself, and the irresistible attraction of film cred gained by association with films like Vertigo (#2), His Girl Friday (#10) and The Godfather Part II (#5) is probably not to be underestimated. Such cachet must account for the presence of these films, for how else to explain the exclusion from the top 10 of such hyperviolent hipster favorites as Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs or Brian De Palma’s Scarface? Surely they and a passel of other usual suspects, including The Usual Suspects and that perennial and inexplicable favorite, The Shawshank Redemption, are hovering not far below the rarified top 10, but personally I don’t really care to find out what actually lies further beneath the line. Lists like the Total Film 100 Greatest Movies of All Time aren’t edifying or interesting, nor do they generate much free-associative thinking to spur readers on to titles they might not know about; instead, they’re back-patting sessions among young film fans who already know it all, insider trading of titles already widely accepted as the hip choices, and they just serve to make me uneasy. I never know whether I should laugh or cry at the prospect of the encroaching enshrinement of a new generation of slick, garish “classic” films that can’t hold a candle to works of art that are gradually being ushered into the musty closet of film history in order to make room for the likes of GoodFellas.

9 comments:

blaaagh said...

I would say "you rock," but I hate that expression, and besides, it's no longer 1997. Anyway, bravo! Well said.

captionjockey said...

Excellent post, Dennis. I think Goodfellas is great; but, like you, I do think it breaks down somewhere past the halfway point. The last time I saw it, I was giddy and mesmerized up to about the halfway point: I think I told my girlfriend that it was even better than I remembered it. I changed my tune by the time the helicopters came. For me, Scorcese's best are undoubtedly Mean Streets and Raging Bull-- with Taxi Driver not far off. What's next, "Maxim on Movies"? Give me a friggin' break.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

CJ: That's exactly the point in the movie I was thinking of. It's a risk Scorsese takes trying to visualize and recreate psychologically that strung-out, hyperparanoid state Hill finds himself in, but unfortunately the effect it ends up having is of the movie itself flying off the handle. For me, it's Mean Streets-- Charlie holding his hand over the flame is an image, and a particular context that the characters played their dramas out beneath, that has never stopped resonating for me. I love Taxi Driver and Kundun too.

Thom McGregor said...

Right on, sister!

psaga said...

Boys, puh-lease. GANGS OF NEW YORK is clearly Scorsese's best work.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Again, there's that "is she or isn't she?" tone of ambivalence. Maybe you should see Gangs again and work out these issues!

captionjockey said...

Even though I thought Gangs of New York was an overwrought, indulgent pile of shite, I still think it's worth seeing for Daniel Day Lewis's freakishly compelling performance-- actually, his speaking manner alone makes the movie worth seeing.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yeah, my feeling on Gangs is that there was a very good movie inside all that set design that was trying to break out. I think that had Scorsese been able to show his version (purported to be at least an hour longer) it may have been more satisfying, thematically and intellectually, but it would have still had to overcome the crippling casting of Di Caprio and Diaz, as anachronistically "modern" in their way as Richard Gere was in Days of Heaven and incapable of making me believe they were in any meaningful way inhabiting their underwritten roles.

fluffsters said...

Hey, Goodfellas is the number one movie of all time! Even my dogs think so.