Like many others I’ve been inspired by that much-derided BBC list of the 100 Greatest American Films to assemble my own roster. Except I can’t pare it down to 100 — the best I can do is 160, and even with this number I’ve had to cut dozens and dozens. It’s not a fun thing to do because over and over again you’re saying “no, no, naaah, hasn’t aged well, no longer, naaah, don’t think so.” And every one of the films that’s been “naahed” was pretty good if not great to start with. On its own terms, I mean.
I’ve broken my list into groups of ten. There are several great films I’ve left out because I’ve never liked watching them very much so there. If a film bothers me on some level, it gets tossed — I don’t care how “great” everyone else says it is. I’m not saying there aren’t 200 or 300 more films that could easily be on someone else’s list. I’m saying these are my choices, and it wasn’t easy.
The most daunting part was choosing The Best American Film Of All Time, which it not a rock or a boulder but a dream, a passing fancy, a thought bubble in the mind of God. Or whatever…a film that expresses something vital and enduring about the American experience or character or attitude. But that sounds pretentious and tedious. Every and every greatest film choice on this list is a keeper, but the very best is…oh, the hell with it. I’m choosing The Treasure of The Sierra Madre (’48) but tomorrow I might select Dr. Strangelove or Zero Dark Thirty or 12 Angry Men or Tender Mercies. No guarantees, nothing rock solid. The top tier of any list is always debatable.
The definition of an “American” film is one principally funded by an American company.
HE’s Top Ten Greatest American Films: (1) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, (2) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, (3 & 4) The Godfather & The Godfather, Part II (5) The Graduate, (6) Election, (7) Zodiac, (8) Rushmore, (9) Pulp Fiction, (10) Some Like It Hot.
Greatest American Films (11 to 20): (11) North By Northwest, (12) Notorious, (13) On The Waterfront, (14) Groundhog Day, (15) Goodfellas, (16) Out Of The Past, (17) Paths of Glory, (18) Psycho, (19) Raging Bull, (20) 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Greatest American Films (21 to 30): (21) Annie Hall, (22) Apocalypse Now, (23) Strangers on a Train, (24) East of Eden, (25) Bringing Up Baby, (26) The African Queen, (27) All About Eve, (28) The Wizard of Oz, (29) Zero Dark Thirty, (30) Only Angels Have Wings.
Greatest American Films (31 to 40): (31) Repo Man, (32) Heat, (33) Red River, (34) Drums Along the Mohawk, (35) Gone With The Wind, (36) Rebel Without a Cause, (37) Ben-Hur (38) The Best Years of Our Lives, (39) The Big Sleep, (40) Shane.
Greatest American Films (41 to 50): (41) Rear Window, (42) Bonnie And Clyde, (43) The Bridge On The River Kwai, (44) Casablanca, (45) Chinatown, (46) Citizen Kane (47) Marnie…kidding! I really mean Duck Soup, (48) King Kong, (49) 12 Angry Men (50) The Informer.