I was looking at a few of the top 100 films lists that are available, from AFI and so on, and got interested in trying to figure out what my personal top 100 would look like. I was curious how mine would compare, as there are certainly films that I know going in will not the same. While understanding the historical importance of Birth of a Nation, The Wizard of Oz, and Gone With the Wind, for example, none of those will make my personal top 100. Because film is such a subjective medium, it shouldn't surprise anyone that their own list might differ from one obtained via consensus.
On the other hand, I do match up to some degree with these lists, because many films in the first part of the 20th century have endured because they are, legitimately, great.
So with all those caveats in mind, here is my top 100. Which is almost certainly wrong because I probably forgot something...
100. Nothing But a Man (1964) This was said to be Malcolm X's favorite film in the last year of his life, and that would be enough to recommend it on historical terms. However, this is also a fine slice of realistic drama that attempted, given the era, to make an honest film that dealt with black lives on the most human level possible.
99. Birdman (2014) I am a playwright, and have loved the theatre since I was in my first play, Pippin, about 7 or 8. Birdman understands backstage like few films ever have, and the scene in which Edward Norton runs lines with Michael Keaton is worth the price of admission by itself. A technical achievement, to be sure, but much more than that. Astonishing work.
98. The Princess Bride (1987) William Goldman's own favorite book contains a little bit of everything: fairy tales, swashbuckling, high fantasy, and Catskills humor. Quotable and memorable and beautifully done.
97. High Fidelity (2000) The go-to movie for record collector music nerd types. I am one of those guys, and this movie was made for me.
96. Year of the Dragon (1985) Yes, this movie has many problems. It could certainly not be made today with the script as written (by Oliver Stone). However, Mickey Rourke's peak as an actor was incredibly high, and of the four possibilities (along with Angel Heart, Rumble Fish, and Barfly) I choose this one. Michael Cimino just fails better than most directors succeed. And his Chinatown set fooled Stanley Kubrick.
The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
95. Inglorious Basterds (2013) A great film in about six scenes. And it introduced the world to Melanie Laurent.
94. Miracle Mile (1989) A sleeper of a film featuring a young Anthony Edwards, a young Mare Winningham (one of my favorite actresses of the period, especially in a little film called Threshold in which she co-starred with Jeff Goldblum), and seemingly every great character actor alive. It begins as a romantic comedy and ends with one of the bleakest endings ever for a Hollywood picture.
93. Withnail & I (1987) Celebrating the glory that is Richard E. Grant forevermore. Ponce!! (See the clip below.)
92. Laura (1944) The first of two Otto Preminger films on my list, this one features Dana Andrews playing a really nutty cop, with the immortal Gene Tierney as the woman he investigates. This movie is really much weirder than its reputation and still compelling. This same plot was re-used by Burt Reynolds in Sharky's Machine, which is itself a pretty good (and strange) film, albeit at the level of a good B-movie.
91. The Prizoner of Zenda (1937) The source material - Anthony Hope's novel - was much-adapted by Hollywood, but this one is still the best. It's Ronald Coleman versus Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (who smokes amazingly well in scene after scene) and in between is Madeleine Carroll. It's a boy's fantasy played out in life and still incredibly entertaining.