To me a perfect film understands itself perfectly, embraces the virtues of self-discipline and doesn’t mess around.
It tells the truth (or at least its own truth), throws nothing but strikes, allows no opposing hits and leaves no dangling threads.
It’s always a step or two ahead of the average audience, but not too far ahead. It’s smart and perceptive, and yet it never bores even the dumbest audience member, and it understands pacing and story tension and how to deal the right cards in the right way, and at the right time.
It knows, in short, what beginnings, middles and ends are supposed to achieve, and it follows through like a pro. It presents a spherical, recognizable world that adds up no matter how you slice it.
In his new book “Cinema Speculation“, Quentin Tarantino lists seven 20th Century films that he regards as perfect:
I’m not disagreeing with Quentin’s choices exactly. I certainly agree with five of them, but if I was forced to select my own seven perfectos I definitely wouldn’t include Hi-Ho Steverino‘s Jaws (a very satisfying and finely crafted summer popcorn film but saddled with a few problems) and I certainly wouldn’t choose Tobe Hooper‘s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…please.
Here are more perfect or near-perfect films…50 of them….the top third from “HE’s 160 Greatest Films of All Time” (posted on 7.24.15). I believe with all my heart that these 50 are just as perfectly assembled as Quentin’s seven. There’s no way to make a convincing case that Quentin’s seven are more perfect than any of HE’s 50, whatever that could possibly mean. Everything is arbitrary, personal…there’s no formula.
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) One-Eyed Jacks, (48) King Kong, (49) 12 Angry Men (50) The Informer.