That question has been endlessly debated by film aficionados and critics, and understandably, it’s difficult to arrive at a definitive answer. Since film is an art and art, by nature, is subjective, it’s almost impossible to be completely objective when reviewing movies. This task also is difficult because reviewers don’t always agree what factors define a great film.
Still, that hasn’t dissuaded critics from coming up with lists that rank the supposed greatest movies of all time, with classic films like “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “Casablanca” (1942) frequently topping the list. The British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine recently generated quite a bit of discussion when its once-a-decade survey declared Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958) to be the greatest film of all time, ending “Citizen Kane’s” 50-year reign at the top. The panel surveyed by the institute included distributors, critics and academics.
I haven’t seen “Vertigo” yet, so I can’t comment on whether I think it deserves to top “Citizen Kane” (which is a film I believe all movie buffs should see). But the announcement about this survey got me to thinking about the “greatest movie of all time” discussion and if maybe Hollywood is going about this discussion in the wrong way.
To be honest, I’ve never been quite sure what to think of the “greatest movie of all time” debate. When someone asks what I think the greatest movie is, I tend to bring up some of the more serious, “artistic” films that have been made by Hollywood. These are the types of films that dominate the British Film Institute’s list, which you can view at this link: www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-19078948. You typically won’t find films like “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings” on this type of list, although these films rank highly on another list — the highest grossing films of all time.
Film critics tend to look down somewhat on blockbusters like these. These movies are usually crowd-pleasers that are less serious in tone, and the assumption is that makes them less worthy, and more “entertainment” than “art.” However, I don’t think critics should completely discount these movies, and while I’m not necessarily advocating they should have a shot at making the greatest movies of all time list, these types of movies are important in their own way. “Star Wars” and similar well-loved blockbusters may not be “high art,” but I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss stories like this as just mindless entertainment.
As much as I love “Star Wars,” I won’t claim it’s the greatest movie of all time (even though I’d really like to). 😉 It is, however, the movie that I love the most (“The Empire Strikes Back” is my favorite entry in the saga). Some of the greatest movie characters — Darth Vader, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi — have come out of this film saga, and it’s a rousing, epic adventure. In a way, it’s the space age version of the King Arthur legend, a tale of good and evil that takes place in a far-off, magical realm. “Star Wars” is an important film in that it has impacted and influenced pretty much every special effects heavy action/adventure film that has come after it. Love him or hate him, George Lucas pioneered many digital effects in his original “Star Wars” trilogy. Without him, we probably wouldn’t have “Lord of the Rings” or the recent run of successful Marvel superhero films.
While I think it’s important to honor the more “serious” films on the British Film Institute’s list, there’s nothing wrong with critics showing a little love for some well-made blockbusters such as “Indiana Jones” and Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, as well. There’s room for both types of films in Hollywood, and I think the film industry is better off because of this diversity. Everyone has different tastes, and there’s plenty to choose from.
And if I did have to pick what I thought the greatest film of all time was, I’d probably have to say “Casablanca,” a black and white World War II era drama. I was surprised to see this film didn’t make the British Film Institute’s recent list, and it’s one of my personal favorites. It’s a timeless, elegant classic with an excellent cast, and it’s well worth renting if you haven’t seen it yet.
So, what would you pick as the greatest film of all time? Is it the same as your personal favorite movie?