Top 100 Movies 2017

Introduction

There’s something that seems a little uninteresting about this year’s list, almost regressive. Like this year’s Top 100 seems pretty uncontroversial, it seems very consistent with all my past lists. There aren’t a lot of movies new to the list, instead theres some old ones back on it. In the past I’ve been open to having outright bad movies on the Top 100 because they were bad; I’ve tried to modernize the list by importing recent movies and watched them sort of wash off; there’s been the odd year where I watch a lot of new movies and it upends everything. By comparison this Top 100 is practically establishment. What’s that about and how does it even happen? Well there’s a number of reasons and we’re going to talk about a bunch of them.

First though, I’m more proud of the shape this particular list took than almost any other year’s effort. This list, you might say, seems the most right of any list I’ve put out maybe since 2014. In that respect I’d say it’s authoritative, which is rather reflected in its white-bread ranking of the most likely movies to make a Top 100 movie list ever. Again, this is, as always, an informed product of the list along a number of avenues I was looking down in producing this ranking.

However, there’s one simple reason which we can just get out of the way right now. The list just turned, I guess, old this year. Like I’m sending my list off to first grade. And I did the first Top 100 going into my senior year of high school. This is the seventh Top 100. I’ve grown up a lot with this project. But weirdly, I think there’s something to be said for this list crossing the seven year milestone in that it’s aged a bit too. To me this seems like the first year where putting this project together could be said to be on cruise control. I’ll take steps to avoid really getting complacent, but it almost felt likely.

The Top 100 doesn’t use training wheels any more like it did the second time around with a stupid honorable mention section. It can tie it’s shoes, unlike when I had to put a reminder to add Treasure of the Sierra Madre to the list because I meant to and then forgot. It doesn’t poop it’s pants like it did in 2015 when I lost my marbles and didn’t get around to ranking till January 2016. That doesn’t mean it’s stale either if that’s even possible. It hasn’t aged like a wine, or a Twinkey, or even like I have as much as we’ve grown up together anyways. The truth is that this Top 100, sort of conservative as it may be, actually represents some really important and I think advanced values I’ve developed in recent years.

Not the Time for Politics

I’ve always had a bit of a leaning toward granting that a movie was important. It’s part of the holistic view of history and society the Top 100 tries to advance which in the past has extended equally to Tron as it does to The Battle of Algiers this year and years in the past. This principle extends to so much of the make up of the Top 100. But I actually worked this year to keep at bay the so-called topicality of any movie. Which, as I’ll explain, this list is still very topical, but it’s not intended as a political manifesto at all.

The Battle of Algiers made it’s entry on the list as the Arab Spring heated up. It’s moved around since then like a literal barometer of that movie’s relevance, how important it seems, but that’s not what it’s doing here this year. The Battle of Algiers remains a beautiful and well constructed film all around. We should try to make movies that look like this one more. That notion, of making formally good films, is if anything at the very center of this Top 100.

Still Downfall, is here as well as American History X which are movies I think are highly prescient today. Do the Right Thing is at it’s highest position ever, which has always had the flare of being a statement. This Top 100 has features seeming like it’d be political. More films by more black directors than ever before, including recent films like Moonlight. More films by more women directors than ever before, including new comer to the Top 100 Lost in Translation. I warmed to Lost in Translation this year having admired it for a while in parts but never as a whole.

There’s a very compelling school of thought around these days that suggests that the moral features of a work’s production are in a sense part of it. I’ve always resisted that kind of thinking, and propaganda still makes it’s way onto the list this year in step with my thinking. Even so, arguments are emerging which are robust that there are moral parts of art which is formal. My position is that there shouldn’t be any sort of moral context that excludes a work from being good. The fact of the matter is is that films with greater representation are more indicative of other good making features of a film being present than anything else. You might say that’s the case with Moonlight. The characters that Moonlight sets about bringing to the screen in a compelling way demonstrate a high degree of complexity that is irrespective of what might be seen as its stance toward Hollywood filmmaking. The point is Moonlight, for instance, has many so good-making features in its cinematography and writing and it’s acting that put the movie on the Top 100 without the important-making features it has in film history.

It could be said that Moonlight and others are here at the expense of important movies like The Wizard of Oz because these are the better movies. Therein is the guiding principle throughout this year’s Top 100. Indeed this is the stated principle of the Top 100 every year, that it’s simply about the best movies and nothing else. It is my belief that this year’s Top 100 essentially comes closer to properly evaluating those qualities in film. Even so, I’d really like to see a Bechdel-type analysis of the Top 100 over the years.

But here’s the rub. This Top 100 is specifically trying not to be political. To not take relative importance too seriously you might say. On the contrary, this is a reaffirmation of a strictly formalist properties of movies being what makes them good. Look, there is plenty of room for writing about movies that are salient at the present moment. That will happen, perhaps, just as much as Top 100 lists come out, but it’s not a reason to throw out the exercise I’m trying to go through with here. So there.

But Formalism

So what is this this focused on in positive terms? Well, there is a some sort of guiding principle which guides the Top 100 every year. It’s usually pretty changing, tacit, and more thematic than anything else. For instance, in 2014 I used new experiences in directing to guide me through my monkish meditation on the Top 100. As I mentioned I’ve seen times where it struck me as worthy to consider a movie’s importance or relevance. The past years have sort of update the list to our present day.

In, as I say, rejecting a statement that could should be construed as political though, I have embraced something that’s a bit more positive than the “I’m not going to make a statement at all,” which seems worthy. The result is to say that this Top 100 attempts to take a strong approach to formalism about movies. In essence “what is the most complete or comprehensive answer to the minimal qualifications of being a movie that we can see?” is the question this Top 100 seeks to answer. This Top 100 is the closest I’ve ever come to establishing a sort of list of qualifications—formal properties—a movie has to take to make the grade.

Thus this Top 100 really reflects a lot of the thought that I have put into movies this year. I’ve turned a more theoretical and introspective light on film in 2017 than I ever have. I’ve been toying what feel like weird views to me about film over the past months. It would be impossible to talk about all these kinds of avenues of thought here because this year has felt like it’s revised somewhat the very way I watch film as a formalist proposition. That is to say, yeah, unlike in the past I actually find myself looking for and recalling things about certain movies that are in a sense requisite for me saying that a movie is any good. Is there a rubric for assessing movies on this Top 100? No, there never has been and I can’t imagine there ever will be. But if you make a movie that is formally very similar to the common properties among this set of the Top 100 films, I think it stands to reason that you will have a very exceptional film on your hands.

What are these formal properties like? Well they’re a mixed bag and I actually fairly uncomfortable with where a lot of these views come from. It’s hard to endorse the idea that there is in fact and inventory of things a movie must do to be any good at all. But here we are. Additionally, taking this approach lays a lot more of my taste in film out here than I’m comfortable with. The only movie missing from this list that is very me is A Hard Day’s Night. Otherwise, these are movies which seem to reflect my sensibilities more than the formal properties I’d espouse as being what what makes or breaks making the Top 100 cut. But I have to stand by the ideas that this is a matter of a formalism to maintain my integrity about what I believe about this list.

Therefore we can see things like the presence of feet in the frame at various points showing up as a good making feature in filmmaking. A sort of deliberateness in the choices of lens, film stock, and process are obvious here. Really exacting performances or highly dramatic performances purvey this list. High complexity in storytelling comes through. Tidiness and exactitude in the edit is here. A general sense of an iconographic and minimalistic approach has become very important to me—the idea that nothing can be taken out of a film. There’s also some weird wholistic aspects to this formalism for me. For example, that all of these pieces work together. There’s also a certain ideology advanced by these films that manifests a sophisticated warping of photographic reality into cinematic reality. And yes, as close as ever before, I go to movies looking for these very things today more than ever before. This Top 100 movies have been most impressive in all these regards.

But these kinds of notions are hard to evaluate and even more difficult to be exhaustive about. Well, as I said I can hardly talk about each of them. But Dunkirk is maybe a significant example here, especially since I’m highly critical of Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker. But ultimately I was really impressed by this film. It shows the immense integrity Nolan has in his craft; 70mm presentation, practical effects, a genre tradition, a narrative trademark, playing to strengths, a muted and terse matter-of-factness which I found gripping. I think Nolan nailed it here. In a sense, even though this film is far down the list, you could look at Dunkirk as epitomizing the approach I’m endorsing here.

This positive approach—a strong formalism about good movies—has made me proud of this Top 100. But it’s hard to live with. I think that there’s a host of hard to swallow philosophical pills here. Medium specificity is maybe the most difficult one to hold, it’s certainly the area I most have to examine myself. This is the idea that there is a way that it is proper for an artwork to be, but what I’ve outlined above seems to be an extreme application of medium specificity. I am advancing with this Top 100, I would say, that Schindler’s List reflects most closely the way film wants to be.

With this Top 100 I seek to layout a sort of platonic ideal of film and advance that these movies, queued this way most approach that standard. In the case of this Top 100, then, you could come away saying that the best possible movie has a runtime just under three hours, is probably black and white, may even have already been made (although this is a vexing formal property), is an adapted screenplay, and a number of other generalizations. But to ascribe these traits as necessary seems preposterous. Nevertheless, this is what’s going on behind the scenes here.

Take all that into account as you enjoy the Top 100:


  1. Schindler’s List
  2. The Passion of Joan of Arc
  3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  4. Kagemusha
  5. The Elephant Man
  6. Metropolis
  7. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover
  8. Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  9. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
  10. A Clockwork Orange
  11. The Maltese Falcon
  12. Seven Samurai
  13. The Apartment
  14. There Will Be Blood
  15. Do the Right Thing
  16. Psycho
  17. His Girl Friday
  18. Downfall
  19. Star Wars
  20. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  21. Singin’ in the Rain
  22. Casablanca
  23. The Virgin Spring
  24. The 400 Blows
  25. Bambi
  26. Fargo
  27. Citizen Kane
  28. Back to the Future
  29. The Fall
  30. Jurassic Park
  31. Gladiator
  32. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
  33. The Godfather Part II
  34. Paths of Glory
  35. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  36. Pulp Fiction
  37. Full Metal Jacket
  38. Blade Runner
  39. Barry Lyndon
  40. Hoop Dreams
  41. Titanic
  42. Spirited Away
  43. Alien
  44. Toy Story
  45. The Matrix
  46. Laurence of Arabia
  47. American Graffiti
  48. The Silence of the Lambs
  49. The Great Beauty
  50. Ratatouille
  51. Amadeus
  52. Hero
  53. Russian Arc
  54. The Exorcist
  55. Apollo 13
  56. Léon: The Professional
  57. Mulholland Dr.
  58. The Graduate
  59. American History X
  60. Trainspotting
  61. Gosford Park
  62. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  63. Chinatown
  64. Shane
  65. 12 Angry Men
  66. The Big Lebowski
  67. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  68. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  69. The Lion King
  70. Hamlet (1996)
  71. Le Samuraï
  72. Chariots of Fire
  73. The Big Sleep
  74. Lost in Translation
  75. Roman Holiday
  76. Heat
  77. Battle of Algiers
  78. Raging Bull
  79. Hot Fuzz
  80. Drive
  81. Scorpio Rising
  82. American Psycho
  83. Werkmeister Harmonies
  84. Her
  85. Airplane!
  86. City of God
  87. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  88. Moonlight
  89. The Sweet Smell of Success
  90. Children of Men
  91. Dunkirk
  92. Apocalypto
  93. Network
  94. The Devil Wears Prada
  95. Shame
  96. The Last Picture Show
  97. Olympia Part II: Festival of Beauty
  98. Jaws
  99. The Social Network
  100. The Third Man