From budding critics to anybody with a mild interest in motion pictures, computer programmer Col Needham’s Internet Movie Database (IMDb) provides a wealth of factual information and trivia for all things cinema and television. Open to input from anybody with an internet connection, it has compiled the users’ top rated films in an assumed attempt to list the greatest films of all time. However, in a world where more people listen to Bieber than Beatles, and read Okay magazine over Oscar Wilde, quality and viewer approval are not directly correlated. It’s important to take a step back, and consider whether these films are really worthy of these illustrious rankings.
#5: Pulp Fiction
In the interest of transparency, Pulp Fiction is my favourite film and speaking personally, the last forty minutes is one of the most phenomenal pieces of cinema I have ever witnessed, particularly in its acting, direction, writing and well, pretty much everything about it. So obviously this is completely unbiased. The concept of Tarantino’s masterpiece is simple, but brilliant: take three conventional tales and invigorate them all with dramatic mishaps in the form of a heroin overdose, a trigger slip, and some very illicit basement activity. Whilst Tarantino’s scripting prowess is always at the heart of his films, his second directorial attempt is thoroughly engrossing. It also enjoys some career-reviving performances from John Travolta and Bruce Willis as well as Samuel L. Jackson’s most acclaimed performance to date. Combine that with a soundtrack to draw a boogie out of even your most menopausal aunt, and you have this delightful treasure that is a testament to originality and excellent writing. While ultimate Oscar glory was nabbed by Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction was decorated with the Palme D’Or and slips into IMDb’s top five over Robert Zemeckis’ heart-warming tale.
This film merits appreciation in every fashion. While its liberal use of fake blood and profanity earn it a deserved 18 certificate, just because a film is not for the faint hearted should not detract from its quality. For anybody who is yet to see it, this is a thorough recommendation, although maybe not with the kids.
#4: The Dark Knight
What is really impressive about Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the Batman series is the utter elimination of all comedic elements. Any humour is subtle and often dry, and comic book or not Christian Bale portrays a character so impressively dark and brooding that it becomes hard to poke fun – even with all that black leather. A stellar cast typical of Nolan’s pictures all commit with the same intensity and from the very offset the score leaves the audience unnerved but totally absorbed. People often call our #3 the greatest sequel of all time, but when talking about relative improvement, this film took what Batman Begins started and created a true epic.
This warrants a high position perhaps not because of the film itself, but what it represents. Nolan strives for more than mediocrity and special effects with this blockbuster, and takes a comic book adaptation further than ever before. A plethora of actors have embodied Batman characters, but Heath Ledger achieved something that DC and Marvel have otherwise failed to even come close to: an Oscar. Do not believe the rumours; posthumous or not this award was well deserved. It’s still difficult not to feel a slight chill at the words “Why so serious?”
#3: The Godfather: Part II
The second episode attempts to fill the first’s enormous loafers by following Pacino’s journey as Michael Corleone, the eponymous ‘godfather’, but also sees Robert De Niro’s career-making turn as the younger Vito Corleone, speaking fluent Italian whilst he establishes himself in early twentieth century New York. This blend of prequel and sequel gives the movie an enticing edge, promoting it from a simple regurgitation of Part I to a dual storyline which is as gripping and smoothly executed as its predecessor. Part III was released twenty years later and unfortunately, despite its various achievements, it will always pale quite spectacularly in comparison. It evokes the feeling of hanging around a restaurant for two days after a meal just for the dessert, only to find it tepid and perishable.
Part II, while given quite a generous third position, still deserves acknowledgment because it does not offer a perfunctory repetition of Part I, but maintains the same standard of excellence set by its forerunner. The first will always be superior, partially due the electrifying characters portrayed by Brando and James Caan, but also because the first is the complete film, and it may be the perfect movie. Ultimately though, both helpings provide offers one simply can’t refuse.
#2: The Godfather: Part I
The first instalment transforms Mario Puzo’s pulp thriller novel into a dark, slow burning picture, and continues to garner the acclaim of both critics and real life gangsters. Its narrative, unprecedented in contemporary films of the genre, takes an introspective glance into the lifestyle of mobsters against a backdrop of a corrupt America, as opposed to the implicitly judgemental standpoint of an outsider. The ensemble’s performances are a pleasure to behold, particularly those of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, and the sleek directing and smart dialogue help to create a legendary piece of cinema. With these two portions of The Godfather trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola managed to create two epics which, forty years on, still flourish with class, subtlety and unadulterated excellence.
The Godfather is the only entry in the top five that holds the same ranking in the American Film Institute’s listing of greatest films, which demonstrates both its brilliance and timelessness. On its release, it struck the ever elusive balance between critical and commercial success, and gave credibility to a genre struggling to produce quality material. Still as relevant and provocative today as it was then, it is destined to share a similar level of appeal for decades to come.
#1: Shawshank Redemption
Slipping above The Godfather merely six years ago, this story spans the twenty year friendship between two inmates amidst the various brutalities within Shawshank State Penitentiary. Adapted from a Steven King novella, Frank Darabont’s moving tale is one of atonement, loyalty and humanity, and has plucked IMDb users’ heartstrings all the way to pole position in the chart. Any emotional distance created by the occasional coldness of Tim Robbins’ protagonist is quickly recovered by Morgan Freeman’s remarkable ability to steal every scene. Ruthless criminal or not, half the audience would walk right off a cliff if his character pointed that way. Despite a very modest initial performance at the box office, the film’s popularity has grown exponentially in the last two decades, to the extent where almost every other cinema attendant catalogues this as their favourite picture.
This film’s position provokes curiosity, because it’s difficult to outline the reason for its popularity. A significant amount of the film’s approval and acclaim should certainly be accredited to Freeman’s narration, his velvety baritone taking the audience smoothly through two decades inside Shawshank’s walls. It is unclear whether the fraternal bond between Freeman’s and Robbins’ characters or the prevailing of morality over oppression is responsible for the incredible support, but either way IMDb users cannot praise it enough. The lack of romance is also interesting, with the most influential female character being murdered before the opening credits, showing that apparently love is not a theme necessary to gratify the masses. What this ranking really displays is how subjective this industry is, and that there is evidently no definitive checklist for a successful movie. While, in my opinion, it is not the best film ever made, it’s still markedly excellent and it’s reassuring to note that not all people are satisfied watching utter drivel. After all, Adam Sandler and Keanu Reeves are nowhere to be seen on this list, something to set any self-respecting film buff’s mind at ease.