Berardinelli's All-Time Top 100: Introduction

by James Berardinelli

January 4, 2002 (Appended December 24, 2003)

People love lists. At the end of every year, everywhere you look, there are "Top 10s" of this, that, and the other things. And every time the American Film Institute (AFI) comes out with another made-for-TV movie list special, viewers tune in. You know the ones I'm talking about... The 100 Best American movies, "100 Years, 100 Laughs","100 Years, 100 Thrills", "100 Years, 100 Tears", "100 Years, 100 Groans", "100 Years, 100 Snores", etc. And, at the end of the year, we all check the critics' Best 10 lists, if only to shake our heads at how misguided they are.

Like everyone else, I have a soft spot for lists. Perhaps because I'm an engineer by trade, I like organizing things, and lists are effective ways of doing that. Still, I don't pay much attention to any of the so-called "All Time" film rosters - whenever a prominent one pops up, curiosity prods me to check it out, but it doesn't mean much to me. I don't get upset if my favorite films aren't there - in fact, in many cases, I expect them to be absent. There's nothing more individual and personal than a Top 100 list. Attempts to quantify the Best 100 movies of all time are doomed to failure, since the words "quantify" and "art" are incompatible bedfellows.

So why am I making my Top 100 list available for the world to see? One reason is that, amidst all of the e-mails I get, this is one of the most frequent requests. Once every three or four days, as regular as clockwork, someone asks for my Top 10, 20, 50, 100, or even 1000 movies of all-time. Another reason is to highlight some underrated films by their inclusion (and, conversely, to do the same with some overrated films by their omission). At the very least (for those with similar tastes to mine), this list will represent a repository of potential VHS/DVD rental choices.

Please note that the title of the list is my "Top 100 Films of All-Time" not the "Best 100 Films of All-Time". My ego is not large enough to allow me to claim to be able to compile the latter list. To date, I estimate I have seen about 6000 movies. That's a lot - more than many people see in a lifetime - but it also means that there are thousands of films I have not seen, and, with so many holes in my viewing roster, I can't even attempt to compile a comprehensive list. So all I'm doing here is listing my 100 favorites (and it took a lot of work to narrow things down to 100 titles). I doubt there's another person in this world who will come up with the same 100 movies.

Also, the list is a living thing. As I see more movies, it will evolve and change. When a great new film comes out, it may enter the list. Likewise, I may see and fall in love with an older movie. Thus, to start with, there are no runners-up. But, as other movies enter the list, those near the bottom will slip into runners-up status. Five years from now, the list may have changed by 10-20%. I expect to revisit the list anually (every January) to determine whether any of the movies I have seen in the past twelve months (whether new releases or older films I have just gotten around to watching) should be added. The main list page will keep a record of additions and films that have become runners up.

Some might assume that the list will be comprised solely of four star films. It is not. There are many four-star films to be found, but also quite a few with three-and-one-half stars. There are also a number of four-star films that didn't make the list. There's no definitive reason for this, except that the passage of time has, in some cases, enhanced or decreased my opinion of a particular movie. Reviews, excepting video reviews, are written within 24 hours of my having seen a movie, and are usually based on a single viewing. Hindsight, used in compiling this list, is generally not a contributing factor. There are no movies on it that I have seen only once. Plus, the star-rating, imperfect as it may be, signifies how strongly I recommend a film (four-stars being the highest recommendation). It does not represent objective quality (although that is often what people mistake it to mean). How much I like a film correlates strongly with how highly I recommend it, but the correlation is not perfect. That may not make sense to anyone reading this, but it makes perfect sense to me.

A few random statistics of possible interest. The breakdown by decades goes like this: one from the 1920s, four from the 1930s, five from the 1940s, 15 from the 1950s, 14 from the 1960s, 15 from the 1970s, 26 from the 1980s, 17 from the 1990s, and three from the 2000s. (This does not mean I think the 1980s is the best decade for movies; however, since the '80s represented my "formative" years, it's logical that a high percentage of my favorite movies would come from this era.) The black-and-white versus color breakdown is as follows: 74 in color, 26 in black-and-white. Two are silent films; the rest are "talkies." Spielberg has five entries. Kurosawa has four. Scorsese, Reiner, and Hitchcock have three apiece. No other directors have more than two.

So, for what it's worth, here's the list that so many of you have clamored for - the fruit of more than three decades of movie-watching and ten years of reviewing.

© 2002, 2003 James Berardinelli

Back to Top 100 List