A while back I posted “Cliff’s 10 Best Movies of All Time.” Lists like this, whether about movies, books, or music, are fun but also fundamentally fraudulent, since no one who puts them together has read, seen, or heard every film, novel, or record out there. The longer we live, and the more we encounter, the more our experience broadens, and the more we reflect on what we have already experienced. It is with that in mind that I offer an alternate Top 10. This list does not supersede the first one — I stand by the films on that list — nor does it exactly combine with the first to form a Top 20, since part of my rationale for the original choices was that each one represented a particular idea or quality, which is not necessarily the case with the new list. Best to call it, as jazz musicians do, an alternate take. So, in no special order:
MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001). Fascinating beyond all reason, and, if you think about it — and you don’t have to think too long — horrifying in its implications. I’m not sure David Lynch completely worked through the logic of this story; it’s more as if he glimpsed something he himself didn’t understand and merely reported back, which is scarier still. This movie knocked my socks off.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1943). Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s moving epic about a career soldier (Roger Livesey, a sort of British Cary Grant) whose weakness is his belief that the world is as honorable as he is.
JEANNE DIELMAN, 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES (1975). In this film by Chantal Akerman, we watch single parent Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) as she makes meatloaf, washes dishes, has quiet dinners with her teenage son . . . oh, and takes in male sex clients. The sympathy we develop for Jeanne during what ought to be unwatchably dull sequences is a miracle, and the ending is a heartbreaker.
NOTHING BUT A MAN (1964). Michael Roemer’s film, starring Ivan Dixon and Abbie Lincoln, was made during the civil rights era but is not about civil rights, exactly. It is simply a deeply human story about one couple’s struggle to stay together in the face of societal conditions that would be funny if they weren’t so horrible. Completely unsentimental and very affecting.
GOODFELLAS (1990). You like mob movies or you don’t. I do. This is one of the best.
THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY II (1989). I admit this doesn’t sound like much. Most sequels are created solely to make suckers of people who liked the original stories, and it’s a rare sequel that comes close to equaling, let alone surpasses, its predecessor. But here is one of those rare films. As cliché as this sounds, you will laugh all the way through The Gods Must Be Crazy II, and when it’s over you may have a tear in your eye. (And it’s not necessary at all to have seen the original.)
SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973). Ingmar Bergman’s TV miniseries, condensed for theatrical release. An amazingly written and acted portrait of a marriage that fails but refuses to die. (Only one thing didn’t make sense: Who could leave Liv Ullmann?)
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Capra’s masterpiece has become just another part of Christmas, which makes it easy to forget just what a great film it is. It’s a Wonderful Life is novelistic in its accumulation of detail and its treatment of the passage of time, with its attendant disappointments. I cry every year.
THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998). The Dude! Macabre fun, the Coen brothers’ way. Inspired.
UNFORGIVEN (1992). “It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.” This is Clint Eastwood, after making more shoot-em-ups than you could shake a stick at, reflecting on the real cost of violence.
What’s on your list?