5 – The Graduate

No movie has ever captured the time it was made in better than The Graduate. Based on Charles Webb’s brilliant novel, Mike Nichols’ landmark 1967 film is the story of Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate without a clue what to do with his life. As played by Dustin Hoffman, Benjamin is easy pickings for Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson, a bored, lonely housewife who decides to begin an affair with her young neighbor. This only pushes Benjamin further away from figuring himself out until he meets Mrs. Robinson’s daughter and falls head over heels in love with her…or does he? A story of rebellion and the rejection of an older generations “plastic” mindset, The Graduate has endured for generations because it’s message never changes.

4 – Duck Soup

Chaplin and Keaton invented screen comedy, but it was The Marx Brothers who perfected it. Duck Soup is their masterpiece, a condemnation of war and those who would wage it. Despite it’s serious message, you’d be hard pressed to find a single serious moment in the whole movie. Groucho becomes president of Freedonia (which was once considered as the name of the United States), a country filled with easily lead idiots. Harpo and Chico are the spies who have no idea which side they’re on. That’s it. That’s what can loosely be described as the movies plot. Yet using that setup the Marx Brothers use comedy to eviscerate the politics of the time. Critically despised upon it’s initial release, Duck Soup is now considered by many to be the greatest comedy ever made.

3 – Psycho

While some still dismiss Hitchcock’s most popular film as sleazy trash, Psycho’s legacy is undeniable. Few films can be credited for inspiring an entire genre, but every slasher film ever made can be traced back to Psycho. This is perhaps the most daring film ever made, though it’s hard to see that now. Everyone knows the story inside and out before they ever see the movie, but audiences in 1960 were shocked. I won’t add to the demystification of this film by revealing a single plot twist. I will say however that despite Anthony Perkins giving what is perhaps the best performance of any actor in all of cinema, it is Hitch himself who is the star of the film. Psycho invented a new language for cinema, and without it it’s inconceivable to imagine what movies would be like today.

2 – Citizen Kane

No list of the greatest movies ever made is complete without Citizen Kane, so much so that it’s become chic to leave it off such lists. Seen at the time as a smear job on William Randolph Hearst, Kane is now better remembered as the movie that changed everything. First time director Orson Welles invented a new language for cinema, pioneering techniques that we take for granted today. As an actor he gave us one of the movie’s towering figures – Charles Foster Kane. As seen through the eyes of those he left behind, Kane is either a saint or the world’s greatest sinner, depending on who is telling the story. The quest for the meaning of Kane’s last word, “rosebud,” is never solved by the young reporter searching for it, but we the audience are given the answer in the films final moment, and are left to interpret it’s meaning as we wish.

1 – Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg shied away from telling the story of the Holocaust for years, determined not to examine such a deep wound in history unless he could do it justice. In 1993, Spielberg showed us what a fine filmmaker he truly was. The story of war profiteer turned Jewish sympathizer Oskar Schindler, Spielberg stripped away the schmaltz of his earlier films to deliver a devastating look into history’s greatest atrocity. Shot in stark black and white and featuring some of the most unforgettable images ever put to film, Schindler’s List is the greatest movie ever made because Spielberg accomplished his goal: He did justice to a moment in time that we must never forget, and he helped preserve that moment. No movie can aspire to anything greater.

Honorable Mention – Angels in America

Angels in America is a 2003 miniseries that appeared on HBO. Because it was not a theatrical film, I didn’t include it on this list. However, if I had, it would have ranked near the top. Mike Nichols’ adaptation of Tony Kushner’s play is some of the finest filmmaking ever, chronicling a different kind of holocaust: The AIDS epidemic. Set in the 1980s and following a large cast of characters all struggling, directly and indirectly, with the disease, Angels in America is everything a movie should aspire to be. Brave, funny, heartbreaking, and wonderfully inspiring, I recommend this film to anyone who loves movies.

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