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The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made
Release Date: November, 1999
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Everyone knows that a good canon debate doesn't get interesting until you reach the realm of the top 100. But by listing the top 1,000 movies, as the editors of The New York Times have done with this fat, readable collection of reviews, you get to skip all that huffing and puffing about quality and head straight for the fun. With a little elbow room, there's space for ineffable stuff like Mr. Hulot's Holiday and The Match Factory Girl. Room, too, for the nuance-free Mrs. Doubtfire and the free-falling Die Hard (which makes it, yep, right next to Diner). Pillow Talk squeezes in just one down from The Piano. What's really new about this book, though, is that the reviews have been culled from the Times's archive--reaching back to 1931. So you can read Vincent Canby reacting to Taxi Driver in 1976, just days after first seeing it: "The steam billowing up around the manhole cover in the street is a dead giveaway. Manhattan is a thin cement lid over the entrance to hell, and the lid is full of cracks." Not bad for a guy on deadline. Bosley Crowther, who preceded Canby, fares less well, waving off Rear Window as Hitchcock's "new melodrama, " and Psycho with, "It does seem slowly paced." By contrast, Janet Maslin's more recent reviews hum and gush, unraveling the merits of Pulp Fiction and Lone Star. At collected-Shakespeare size (999 pages), the title is probably too vast for schlepping around, but go ahead, try reading just one. With plenty of international selections, including usual suspects from France (Truffaut), Italy (Fellini), and Japan (Itami), as well as some unusual ones from Brazil, Mexico, India, and Czechoslovakia, there's enough canon fodder here for at least five "Top 100" books. --Lyall Bush
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Posted by mingus500 on 1/2/2000
Give the Times credit for having the guts to reprint the original reviews. Several films that are regarded as classic today, such as "Psycho", received lukewarm responses in their original release. Most other music and movie review guides (The Rolling Stone guide for one) overlook their past 'mistakes'. Because the reviews were written at the movies' release, they rarely suffer from the stale air of reverence given to classic films.
The length of the reviews is perfect. Longer than the 3 or 4 sentence plot summaries of most guides, they give the reader a better sense of the character of the film, while still remaining short enough to peruse the book before going to the video store.
I recommend a Maltin guide to begin with, since it covers more films. I think this would be a fine second film guide.
The new Golden Age of Cinema
Posted by Randy Keehn on 4/27/2003
This book is an excellent resource for those who are looking for a good movie to watch. Like any other "list" it has its' limits. No two peoples likes and dislikes are exactly the same. Thus there will be disagreements over what is included in the "Best 1000 Movies". Frankly though, the disagreements will probably be over what was included in this book rather than what was excluded; the top 1000 certainly covers a lot of ground. As I came across a movie I thought was undeserving, I thought to myself, "How could they include this movie and leave out..." Strangely enough, every movie I thought to finish the sentence with turned out to be in the book. OK, so it IS short on some of the great comedy of the past; I believe "Duck Soup" is the only Marx Brothers entry. But, then, I didn't need this book to tell me how good the Marx Brother movies are.
What is has done for me, once I stopped gawking and started to put it to work, is introduce me to a lot of good movies that I would have missed otherwise. I've been going to the video stores lately looking for the "older" movies of the 80's and 90's rather that the meager selections of new releases. Agreed, most of the ones I've checked out have not been on anyone's top ten list. However, they have been enjoyable and better than most of the movies I've seen on TV of late.
I do have a couple of mild criticisms of this book. The first thing I would "criticize" is the format. (It may also be its' strength so I proceed caustiously along this line). The format is to list the movies with their original New York Times review. That's very well except that the "Times" panned a number of these movies in their reviews. "Bonnie and Clyde" comes to mind as a movie that received a particularly bad review. Now we all know that "Bonnie and Clyde" is a deserving member of the Top 1000 because we've either seen it or know its' reputation. But what about the lesser movies that we've neither seen nor heard much about. How are we to be inspired to go out and watch based solely on a negative review. Some historical perspective could have helped. However, if that were the case, they'd probably still be writing the book. Another "criticism" I have is how I was struck with the notion that most of the movies are of a more recent vintage. I actually sat down and totalled the number of movies in the list by decade (yes, I DO have other things to do with my life). I had always heard that the 1930's were the Golden Age of Cinema but the results suggest otherwise (at least in the eyes of these NY Times editors). There were two movies in the 1920's (kudos to "Disraeli" and "The Jazz Singer"), 92 in the 30's, 129 in the 40's, 146 in the 50's, 150 in the 60's, 156 in the 70's, 200 in the 80's and 128 in the 90's (the latest movies I noticed were in 1998). Thus the new Golden Age would seem to be the 1980's. Why doesn't seem that way in reality? There was an art to movie-making in the pre-1970's that challenged the productions to use more symbolism. Now that we have the technology and lack of inhibitions to show just about anything and everything on film, there seems to be little reason to be suggestive rather than blunt. I suspect that the reason the number are so slanted towards recent vintage may be the failure of the editors to have seen more of the great movies of the past. Having said that, I close with thanks for the effort that went into this book and the excellent resource it will serve for anyone who's looking for a good movie to watch.
Posted by Gerald J. Mahoney on 11/6/2001
If you have any film buffs on your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa shopping list, buy them this book and wait for the gratitude. Of course no one's going to agree on every movie included, and everyone's going to be angered by some omissions... But that's what makes this book so much fun. Film buffs (like me) love getting all riled up over these kinds of things.
But the reason this book is really essential is that, rather than explaining why each included film is great or "important", the editors chose to include the original reviews printed in the Times when the films were released. Seeing how some of these classics were reviewed in their own time is a real kick. Some, like "Casablanca", were rightfully praised. But check out the scathing review of "Dr. Strangelove", which was clearly ahead of its time.
Of course there will never be a definitive list of 1,000 best movies, but a book like this is really more of a jumping off point for discussion. Personally, I admire a list that's willing to put well-made genre flicks like "Nightmare on Elm Street" alongside classy Hollywood landmarks like "Sunset Boulevard". Not everyone will agree. But they'll definitely enjoy the debate.
Posted by Sean Hanley on 3/21/2000
The coolest thing about this book is that the Times reprinted all of their original reviews of the movies. I've read many books that go into a detailed dissection of a given movie, but I've never read someone's immediate reaction to, say, "Citizen Kane." I really admire that the Times would be so forthcoming in showing us how they trashed, or misunderstood some of the greatest movies of all time. For example, "The Godfather, Part II" gets a *bomb* review, (the quote was something to the effect of "The only notable thing about the movie is how much better the first one was by comparison.") and "Kane" is criticized for not fully explaining Kane's character. Of course, one of the major themes of "Citizen Kane" is that no man can be fully explained, a point is made clearly and directly by the reporter in the finale, but somehow the critic missed this. A very interesting part about movies is how they were received at the time they were released, and how that perception has or hasn't changed over the years. This film gives you that, plus you're bound to find movies that you haven't seen or even heard of, and will wind up with some great rentals. My only quibble is with some of the movies that weren't in the book, for example, "The Color Purple," and the recent and hilarious "Flirting with Disaster." Both, if I remember correctly, made it into their top ten of their respective years list, which is in the back of the book.