There I go again with those all-encompassing and all-generalizing titles, but, hey, if my titles get you to click, then so be. I want you to click so desperately because we need to have a conversation as to what constitutes good movies. Sadly, this is one issue that a lot of modern movie houses are more than happy to dispense with altogether.
In fact, there’s a creeping realization that, as long as a movie makes a lot of money, or is a commercial success, it dispels any issue involving quality. This really is too bad because movies are still artistic products, despite of how convoluted and commercially motivated they are. They embody that weird intersection of American culture where it’s partly an economic enterprise and partly a mode of artistic and cultural expression.
With that said, there are certain movies that really stand out in terms of their artistry and key lessons they deliver regarding the human condition that we can all but agreeing on. There will always be outliers and a lot of people who would just disagree just to disagree, but, by and large, these movies can be objectively viewed as the best in American movie history.
Shawshank Redemption involves the triumph of the human spirit in spite of the oppression of not just basic human evil, but also the evil of the feelings of our notions of justice. In the time period of that movie, the justice system in the United States was very broken. If you know a corrupt judge, you’re good to go. However, if you have no connections and have no money, you are going to get the shaft. It doesn’t matter how good of a person are, whether you’re innocent or not, you are going to get the shaft.
Sadly, this is true of many third world countries today. Thankfully, this is a distant memory in the United States, but watching this movie really blows the mind regarding the horrors of injustice.
The Godfather 1
The funny thing about The Godfather really is that it is a recapitulation of the American macho fantasy. American males go through a re-definition with each generation. There’s a certain part of the American male psyche that pines for an era where men were men, women were women, and morality can be divided between black and white.
Interestingly, The Godfather is a movie depiction of a criminal enterprise. This movie had documented the Mafia activity, but it highlights the genius of Francis Ford Coppola. He was able to straddle the moral issues of running a crime organization on one hand, and on the other, the ever-present emotional quagmire present in family loyalties, as well as the transition from an old-world Italian culture to a modern American setting. It was really helped along by Marlon Brando’s amazing performance. It’s very powerful.
The Godfather 2
The main reason I added Godfather 2 to this list is the fact that there are very few sequels you can say, with a straight face, were better than the original. You can pretty much count them with half a hand, The Godfather 2 is one of them.
If you’re looking for background information on the characters that you found so compelling in Godfather 1, you would find it in the sequel. Most importantly, you would see the character development of Michael Corleone as he goes from a conflicted son inheriting a criminal enterprise from his father to a protective figure who is basically taking on all the moral quandary that his family has suffered in making hard choices. Killing your own brother is one of those hard choices.
This is an amazing movie because it really gets to the heart of the collective delusion that is Hollywood. The funny thing about Hollywood is that it equates its commercial success with its ability to be relevant in people’s lives. It kind of uses money as a proxy for its cultural relevance and moral authority.
There is no shortage of Hollywood celebrities weighing in on the great pressing social and political issues of the day because they feel that their qualifications as Hollywood celebrities entitles them to do this soap box. Sunset Boulevard really blows that away. It exposes the delusion involved in the Hollywood dream factory.
The movie deliverance is quite famous for the male rape scene that it has. Sadly, too much of the conversation focuses on that scene and not enough on the deeper truth that this movie brings to the table.
The whole idea behind Deliverance was the fact that the United States was caught in the Vietnam War. It was this country that had all these technological advancements and, otherwise, on a surface level look very civilized and cultured, but, in a different setting, it could not cope when he came down to dealing with human evil at its most primal. It cannot make headway because of the startling revelation that deep down inside we’re all animals.
Some of us just happened to use different eating utensils and prefer different transportation modes, but deep down inside, ultimately, there’s this primordial unchanging aspect. Deliverance really does a good job in highlighting that. It’s kind of like poking in America’s eyes. Regardless of all its claim to moral ascendancy, deep down inside it still has an animalistic side of it that it would rather deny.