Today I’m delighted to be bringing you a guest post by my daughter Abigail who is a Media graduate and film buff.
Here’s Abigail’s article on The Greatest Movies of All Time.
Greatest Movie Of All Time? (Top Four Films Pre-2000)
How many times have you heard the term ‘greatest movie of all time’ or ‘a must-watch for all film students/buffs’? During an open day at the University of Aberystwyth several years ago I heard one such claim in regard to Citizen Kane. The wonders of the film personally fell flat on me, though I can see why some people love it. The movie was breathtaking to look at and I couldn’t stop examining the lighting and camera composition, but the story baffled me no matter how many times I watched it.
While all opinions are subjective, here are just 4 films released before 2000 that I have seen commonly mentioned in this way, that I believe are absolutely worthy of their praise.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Despite its simplicity, the power conveyed by this film cannot be ignored. This is a deeply moving story of resilience, loyalty and redemption and for this reason is one of my favourite films of all time.
It pulls no punches in presenting us with the horrific reality of life inside prison, complete with its truly corrupt power base. We see the full range of the human character, showing no person is black and white, and surprisingly the people locked up show more signs of decency than those detaining them.
Powerful performances from Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins carry the film from its opening to closing points, both understated, directing attention towards the colourful supporting characters, all the while cunningly distracting us from the activities that build to the brilliant and witty twist at the end. The ending may seem saccharine to some but it forms a feel-good conclusion to what could at times be a dispiriting story. For its ability to pull the heartstrings alone, I believe it is worthy of all its praise.
This is the father of the slasher genre, and I believe, the best. This film continues to affect me as I’m sure it did people at the time of release. It’s a true innovator in the world of filmmaking. The iconic shower scene has become such a standard that it borders on cliché, but there is a reason this scene struck a chord in the first place.
Psycho draws the audience in through a series of ‘MacGuffins’ (narrative red herrings), encouraging us to empathise with the protagonist, Marion, and become invested in her plight over the stolen money and her wish to marry her divorced boyfriend, only to have her brutally murdered 30 minutes in. The tone changes dramatically as we suspect the seemingly innocent Norman of sinister acts. The film relies not on gore but on suspense and the genuine acting ability of the cast. Techniques may have changed, but Psycho continues to horrify and compel years later, which is why it deserves its place among the greats.
American Beauty (1999)
A satirical, and deeply cynical look at American society. Using brilliant acerbic wit this film reflects the worst of what domestic life could be. But what starts out as a hilarious cast of stereotypical characters, turns into a nuanced and emotional look at the human condition, the message being ‘nothing is ever what it seems’.
The use of mise-en-scene (visual language conveyed through anything on screen) is beautiful, the red of the front door, the white of the picket fence and the deep blue of the sky embedding the concept of the American Dream into almost every image.
The end of the movie moves me deeply every time and is on a par with the end of the Shawshank Redemption, although with a more bittersweet edge. Stirring soundtracks from Thomas Newman, which contain notably similar strands of music, aptly hold both films together. There are few films that so tightly interweave haunting reflections on life and black comedy as American Beauty does and I admire it for that.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Silence of the Lambs is incredibly chilling, especially in its portrayal of Hannibal with an iconic performance from Anthony Hopkins. We feel as trapped and vulnerable as trainee FBI agent, Clarice Starling, following her mission to unearth information on the cereal killer Buffalo Bill with the help of cannibalistic psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter.
The performances are definitely the driving force, but the dialogue is brilliant and the suspense created by the subdued lighting and camera placement is intense. A giant of the crime/thriller genre.
My mission to watch as many classic films as I can is far from complete. There are many movies I would love to include in this list, from The Godfather to Fight Club, to much of Stanley Kubrick’s work. While it is very difficult to pinpoint the best film of all time, there are countless gems waiting to be discovered if only after a search.
What are some of your favourite films of all time?