MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The Best of All Decades

A few weeks ago, I wrote a long column about why 25th Hour is the best film of the aughts. That got me thinking about what the rest of my list would look like. I’ve narrowed down the list of potential candidates – I’m ultimately going to pick ten – and in the interest of full disclosure, these are the semi-finalists (in sorta-chronological order): Requiem for a Dream, High Fidelity, Wonder Boys, The Virgin Suicides, Amores Perros, Almost Famous, The Royal Tenenbaums, In the Bedroom, Together, A.I., Waking Life, Mulholland Drive, The Piano Teacher, 25th Hour, The Pianist, Igby Goes Down, Punch-Drunk Love, Lost in Translation, Elephant, Lilya 4-Ever, Remember Me My Love, City of God, Before Sunset, I Heart Huckabees, Tarnation, Hotel Rwanda, Closer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Primer, Kings and Queen, The Squid and the Whale, The Last Days, The Constant Gardener, Munich, The New World, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, The Fountain, Little Children, The Departed, Children of Men, The Good Shepherd, The Darjeeling Limited, There Will Be Blood, Zodiac, No Country for Old Men, 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, A Christmas Tale, Paranoid Park, Hunger, Wall-E, Inglourious Basterds, The Hurt Locker, Mammoth, Tetro.

Whew. That’s 54 films, if my tally is correct and my goal is to somehow find ten that are the best. Each one of the films above is brilliant, but it’s going to be tricky to attempt to find the ten best masterpieces in a haystack full of masterpieces. And I still have to see a ton of movies from 2009 that could potential crack the list. Any thoughts or suggestions on how you might tackle this?

But why stop there? My buddy Jack and I spent at least two hours the other night trying to figure out which were the best films of their respective decades. We started with the 20s and he made a passionate case for Sunrise and I was inclined to agree with him. But, I think I’d have to go with The Gold Rush, one of my favorite Chaplin films and arguably his funniest. Some people might pick The General, but it was never one of my favorites and I’m firmly on the Chaplin side of the Keaton/Chaplin debate – although I will admit that Keaton was probably the stronger filmmaker.

The 30s are very difficult. I could make a strong case for Duck Soup, which is probably my favorite screen comedy ever – seriously, it’s still absolutely hilarious today. My buddy Jack rejected that pick without a second thought. I think eventually I went for Fritz Lang’s masterpiece M, which has one of the best performances ever from Peter Lorre. It’s amazing how restrained he is, allowing his bug eyes to express a lot of his inner turmoil. Looking at my notes now, though, I’m thinking seriously about switching to Chaplin’s City Lights, which is my absolute favorite Chaplin film; I mean, it’s got everything you could want, it’ll make you life and cry and it’s over way too soon. There’s also Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise, Capra’s It Happened One Night, King Kong, Bringing Up Baby, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Grand Illusion, and a host of others. I think I’m going to stick with M.

If you thought the 30s were difficult, you can’t imagine how hard it was to come up with some for the 40s. Jack and I started with the premise that Casablanca would be the one to beat and we spent a long time trying to beat it. Jack made a case for Citizen Kane, but while I respect what it did for cinema, I don’t think it’s as compelling to watch now as, say, Casablanca. But there’s also a host of great Hitchcock in the 40s like Shadow of a Doubt(one of my favorites), Spellbound, Notorious, Rebecca, The Foreign Correspondent.There’s also some great Billy Wilder, like Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend.You’ve also got Thief of Bagdad, The Philadelphia Story, Sullivan’s Travels, The Lady Eve, The Maltese Falcon (my stepfather’s favorite movie of all-time), Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete, Best Years of Our Lives (I could cry just thinking about it), Gentleman’s Agreement, The Bicycle Thief, Olivier’s wonderful Hamlet, Red River, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, or The Third Man. We kept trying to think of something to unseat the perfectCasablanca and I think, for me, Treasure of the Sierra Madre came closest, but it’s pretty hard to top Bogie and Bergman in the greatest script ever written.

The 50s were remarkably easy for me. The 400 Blows (and the rest of the Antoine Doinelseries) is probably my favorite (or second favorite) film of all-time. So that was easy, although there’s lots of worthy candidates. Vertigo was the only real challenger, but I had to give Truffaut the edge over his hero, Hitchcock.

The 60s gets a bit more difficult. My first impulse is to give it to Kubrick’s 2001, but I don’t want to make any rash decisions. Godard’s got Breathless and Contempt, which are both worthy competitors. Rohmer has a whole host of films that I love dearly, but I can’t even pick one film of his that is better than the rest, maybe La Collectionneuse. Antonioni had a few pretty good films in there too. I could make a case for The Virgin Spring, but as far as Bergman goes, the 60s were my least favorite of his periods. Bunuel comes really close to unseating Kubrick with Belle de Jour, but 2001 hits me on another level that is beyond the visceral and emotional. It approaches spiritual – or at least, as spiritual as I can get.Lawrence of Arabia is a pretty good one, that gives me some pause. I like My Fair Lady a whole lot, but best of the 60s? Hardly. I could see someone making a legitimate argument forBonnie and Clyde or Easy Rider, considering the effect they had on filmmaking in general, but I don’t revisit either of those films very often. Lumet’s The Pawnbroker is pretty damn amazing, but it’s more like a small gut punch rather than a transporting experience. Au Hasard Balthazar broke my heart and The Battle of Algiers is one of the best movies ever made about terrorism; I like If… a whole lot, never been a particularly big fan of The Graduatethough. I think the only serious competition for 2001 is Dr. Strangelove, but I’d still give it to2001.

The 70s were easy for me too, despite the strong competition from the best decade in film history. I go with Barry Lyndon, with A Clockwork Orange a close second. It’s interesting, when people ask me what my favorite movie is, I always say A Clockwork Orange because seeing it at age 11 made me love film in a way that I never had before. But, if someone asked me what my favorite Kubrick film is, I would say Barry Lyndon in a heartbeat. Every frame is a painting. But, here’s the problem: The Godfather movies. Wow. How do I give anything the nod over Coppola’s masterpieces? Cries and Whispers, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Days of Heaven, Taxi Driver, Network, Annie Hall, Apocalypse Now, all of them amazing (as well as the countless others I’ve left out), but really, for me it’s a grudge match between the two Kubrick films and the two Godfathers. Ultimately, as much as it pains me to say this – seeing as the two Godfather films combined is moviemaking at its absolute finest – I think I’m going to go with Barry Lyndon. Commence hate mail.

The 80s are “easy” for me too. It wasn’t a particularly strong decade and Fanny and Alexander has a definite spot in my top ten of all-time, so that makes it easy. Can we beat it? Let’s see. Kubrick’s got Full Metal Jacket and The Shining, Scorsese has Raging Bull, After Hoursand The Last Temptation of Christ, we’ve got Warren Beatty’s incredible Reds, Diner (one of my favorite movies, it’s still great), Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, Risky Business (where art thou,Paul Brickman?), Ghostbusters, Amadeus, Gilliam’s insanely good Brazil, The Purple Rose of Cairo, The Dead, Withnail and I, A Fish Called Wanda, Drugstore Cowboy, andMy Left Foot. I think the strongest competition comes from the two New York icons, Woody and Spike. Woody’s Hannah and Her Sisters is probably my favorite of his films and Spike’s got the masterful Do the Right Thing. Ultimately, I think Bergman hits me harder emotionally with Fanny and Alexander, but it’s really a lot closer than I thought. Especially seeing as I quote Hannah and Her Sisters constantly; my mom and I always talk about the scene where Woody is having a spiritual crisis and asking his father why there were Nazis (“How do I know why there were Nazis? I don’t even know how the can opener works!”). And then Do the Right Thing has perhaps my favorite image in all of film history, the moment when Mookie throws the garbage can through the window of Sal’s. That moment was so powerful that I wish that I could watch it again for the first time, to experience that strange discomfort one more time. But Fanny and Alexander is the work of a master at the top of his game, controlling the pacing and flow better than any filmmaker I’ve ever seen. His ability to take that first hour or so of the film, which seems tedious at first, and make it not only interesting, but to make it have a different impact each time you watch it, is mind-boggling to me. In my grad school writing classes, we talk about not having extraneous words or paragraphs that don’t do “work” for you. The thing about Bergman is that every line and every scene is doing “work” to push the plot forward, to deepen a character or an emotion, etc. But, the thing that makes him so great is that we never see the “work.”

I thought the 90s would be easy because I thought I would just say Fight Club and be done with it, since that’s what I’ve been saying for the last decade. But now I’m not even sure I thinkFight Club is the best film of 1999; in fact, I think it might be third best, behind Eyes Wide Shut and The Straight Story. Fucking Amal might be a decent choice and Boogie Nightswould be hard to say no to. I love Trainspotting and Before Sunrise, but I don’t think I could give it to either of them. Pulp Fiction seems like a safe bet and you couldn’t go wrong saying either Schindler’s List or Goodfellas. But I think, after much deliberation, that it’s gotta beThe Big Lebowski. It’s become a cult film, but I remember seeing it three times in a span of two days when it first came out – I was fifteen at the time – and bringing different people with me each time, including my parents who loved it. It’s not just endlessly quotable and hilarious, but it’s got a strangely powerful – if stupid – spiritual tinge to it. The Dude abides. It also helps that Jeff Bridges gives one of the all-time great performances in it. Really, has anyone embodied a character and brought them to life in a more fully-realized way than Bridges does with The Dude? I think he’s edged out a little bit in the Best Performance of the 90s category by Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story, but it’s a tough call.

I’m excited to see which is going to be the best of the aughts, but we’ve got some time to digest and a lot more movies to see.

Okay, send all of your disagreements and angry e-mails now.
Noah Forrest
December 14, 2009

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Frenzy On Column

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon