In the spirit of Oscar season and because I love movies as much as the next person, I figured I would take the time to compile a list of sorts for your entertainment. I am sure similar lists and themes have been explored before, but hey, why can’t mine be better? Not every idea has to be original to succeed (go watch most movies or television shows and this will be obvious) – creators, authors, actors, directors and even singers only need to bring a fresh perspective or add value to an old and/or tired premise to breathe new life into it and find an audience.
So here’s my list of the greatest movies of all time, with a numerological bent.
I will count down from twelve, the movies that in my opinion are the best of all time AND include the number on the list to which they correspond – i.e., number twelve must contain the word or number twelve (12) in its title, and number eight must contain the word or number eight (8), etc.
Why twelve, you may ask? Well because beyond twelve the options become limited, if available at all, and I wanted the list to be cohesive, consecutive and contain films that could actually be included on a list defined with the words “greatest” or “best” and not evoke laughter, ridicule and scorn.
Just to be clear: This is not a list of my favorite movies of all time (or someone else’s).
The rules follow:
Numbers that represent sequels do not count. If they did, The Godfather II and Star Wars Parts IV and V would clearly represent their respective numbers…so allow this example to acknowledge those great films without clouding our list.
Homophones do not qualify – especially nauseating plays on words and puns, ala Look Who’s Talking Too, and yes, I know this particular example also violates the first rule above anyway; but in terms of actual contenders, we cannot consider Hitchcock’s classic, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The WWII epic A Bridge Too Far, nor Clint Eastwood’s For A Few Dollars More.
Numbers that are part of larger numbers are impermissible. This unfortunately disqualifies classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1984, 48 Hours, 300 and A Miracle on 34th Street.
Ordinals, or words representing the rank of a number, do count for our purposes, so movies featuring words like “first,” “second” or “third,” etc. are fair game.
Any movie starring Vin Diesel is automatically disqualified (and yes, there were a couple decent movies in his filmography, but none of them had numbers in its title).
So here goes:
12) Ocean’s Twelve was the worst of the Ocean’s trilogy. 12 Monkeys was underrated and almost won my vote. Brad Pitt, who must enjoy movies with numerical titles, was in both. But for my money, Sidney Lumet’s courtroom drama, Twelve Angry Men takes this slot in a split decision.
(I will give props to The Dirty Dozen because it is a great film worth noting and remains one of the best WWII movies ever made. But we can all agree that though dozen is another word for twelve, it is not the word twelve, the number 12 or the ordinal, twelfth, and thus can’t win).
11) Ocean’s Eleven. Maybe I am out of line here, but I prefer the remake to the original.
10) There are really only two candidates worth considering here: Ten and The Ten Commandments. As good as Bo Derek looked in her hair beads, this one wasn’t much of a contest. The late champion of our Second Amendment right to pack heat, and his epic Old Testament tale of Exodus is one of the more treasured American films as is evidenced by its annual run on national television each spring around the celebration of Passover. (Other films that were considered and immediately discarded were 10 Things I hate About You, Heath Ledger RIP, and 10 To Midnight, one of Charles Bronson’s weaker vehicles.)
9) There will be widespread disagreement here. I know it, and frankly, I invite it. There are a slew of movies that could contend here, but not one is jaw-droppingly strong. To me, this quickly became a three horse race between a workplace comedy, an underrated and smartly written science fiction movie and perhaps the sexiest movie ever made.
9 to 5 is a very good movie. I enjoyed it. I am sure you all did too. But after serious consideration, I couldn’t crown it, even with the extra pressure exerted by Dolly’s assets. And 9 ½ Weeks, awesome as it was, really violates our third rule, which eliminates numbers that are part of larger numbers. Without that rule, I think the best soft-porn movie ever made would have nailed down this slot. But alas, rules is rules.
So our winner is District 9. What? You may be thinking. Some of you are seething. The sappy among you might even be singing the praises of 9 Months, or the musical romp 9. But District 9 was a great movie. Sure it was violent, and science fiction is not for everyone. But neither are musicals and Hugh Grant movies. District 9 was a solid metaphor for Apartheid policies and atrocities that plagued South Africa for centuries, and that still linger today throughout the African continent. And it was a funny, poignant and wildly entertaining movie.
(I also considered The Whole 9 Yards for like a second. Very good movie. But after recalling Rosanna Arquette’s awful French accent and Matthew Perry just playing his Canadian dentist role as Chandler, I simply couldn’t associate this movie with the three contenders above).
8) Another three horse race here. This one features three dark, edgy movies: one about our national pastime, one about the hard-scrabble life of a down-on-his-luck gambler, and one about the mean streets of Motor City. 8 Mile was gritty and surprisingly well-acted by Marshall Mathers. But despite being strong enough to contend, Eminem’s free-style rap film should be happy to have even been considered alongside the two other stalwarts.
Eight Men Out masterfully captured the Black Sox scandal and a shocking era of sports and corruption in America. But my guess is that only 50% of our population really appreciates this film. And for that reason…
Hard 8, the coming out party and first full-length feature film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, was and still remains an underrated and underappreciated movie. Glimpses into PTA’s genius bombard us from the moment Philip Baker Hall approaches a downtrodden John C. Reilly outside the diner. Samuel Jackson was still riding his Pulp Fiction high, and Clementine was really the first substantial role for Gwyneth Paltrow, who was dating the numerical movie title king, Brad Pitt, when Hard 8 hit theaters.
(Of course I considered Fellini’s 8 ½, but for the same reason 9 ½ Weeks was disqualified above, Fellini’s opus failed to make our list.)
7) There are five legitimate contenders here, one of which features Brad Pitt. And there is another movie that failed to live up to the top five, but that is good nonetheless, and also features Brangelina’s Y chromosome.
Se7en is awesome. It has the word AND the number seven in its title, and Brad Pitt in its credits. It should win this slot just on those merits. But it doesn’t. At least not in my opinion.
The Seven Year Itch, featuring Marilyn Monroe as the temptress next door, is a very good film with a terrific premise.
The Magnificent Seven AND The Seven Samurai, on which the former is based, are both brilliant films in their own rights. Kurosawa arguably created his masterpiece with The Seven Samurai. I am certain few would argue if I posted either film in this slot.
But I have a soft spot for timeless classics that appeal to the widest audience possible (and Disney movies in general), and so, by the narrowest of margins, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs prevails.
(As previously alluded to, Seven Years in Tibet, starring Floyd from True Romance, was briefly considered, but fell short of the mark.)
6) It’s a shame, really, about our third rule. It would have been nice to get the late John Hughes on this list, and Sixteen Candles would have been tough to beat here. That leaves us with four valid entries, and only two real contenders for the six slot.
Will Smith was eerily compelling in Six Degrees of Separation, but the clear victor here is The Sixth Sense. M. Night Shyamalan, the writer and director of The Sixth Sense has never been able to recapture the brilliance of his first movie. It can’t be easy when your first movie is this good.
(The Governator’s sci-fi non-classic, The 6th Day, and the inexplicably watchable but irritating Harrison Ford and Anne Heche action comedy, Six Days and Seven Nights, were noted…and disregarded).
5) A retread reemerges to contend here, and runs into a weak adaptation of a literary classic, a wild sci-fi thriller and a best picture nominee starring one of Hollywood’s all time leading men.
Slaughterhouse Five was an amazing novel, arguably Vonnegut’s best. But it just didn’t translate well to film. The Fifth Element was fun, offering some memorable scenes and a hilarious role for Dylan McKay, but it simply can’t overtake two better films for this slot.
And once again 9 to 5 comes up a little short, running into an Oscar-nominated film starring Jack Nicholson in his prime. And so Five Easy Pieces nails down the five spot.
(I did consider Five Minutes of Heaven here, which was critically lauded, but I haven’t seen the movie yet, and so really couldn’t put it on my list. Feel free to comment below if you believe this film deserves to be included.)
4) Two Oscar nominated films battle for this slot: Four Weddings and a Funeral, which really was part of the undercard in the incredible 1994 Oscar race, and Born on the Fourth of July, which fiercely contended in a very good 1989 Oscar race.
The nod goes to Oliver Stone and Tom Cruise here as their film took home a lot more hardware. I realize this may not be fair, as the competition in 1994 was far superior to that of 1989, but overall, Born on the Fourth of July is just a slightly better movie with a much more powerful message.
3) This is where the competition becomes clouded with many worthy entries. I narrowed an early seven film race down to a realistic three film contest, which seemed fitting…this being the three slot.
The Three Musketeers has been done to death, occasionally with decent results. Threesome was a surprisingly fun and entertaining college movie, focusing on sexuality, coming of age and experimentation in ways those themes had not previously been explored. Three O’Clock High was as watchable as it was bizarre, becoming a minor cult classic and leaving us with a quintessential ‘80s movie villain in Buddy Revell.
And then there is Three Men and a Baby. As hard as I try, I can find nothing negative to say about what should have been one of the worst movies of all time. I try to think of the production company brass listening to the initial plot pitch, politely nodding with glossed over looks in their eyes and summarily dismissing the writers, and yet somehow having the stones somewhere down the line to say “fuck it…let’s do this.” It even featured Steve Guttenberg…and killed.
But as good as all of those movies were, they can’t hold a candle to the three that ultimately vie for this slot: Three Kings was one of the most underrated movies of the 1990s. Not your typical war movie, David O. Russell’s Gulf War classic injected a high adrenaline and touching plot into a war-torn region and it worked extremely well.
Three Amigos needs its own paragraph. They just don’t make comedies like that one anymore. Martin Short, Steve Martin and Chevy Chase, all still in their comedic primes, took a formulaic and pretty tired plot and simply owned it, milking laughs out of the freaking sand their horses rode upon. And El Guapo, I do know what a plethora means, and there were a plethora of laughs in this gem.
As good as all of those films are, one of Spielberg’s many masterpieces, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is better.
(An honorable mention to Three Days of the Condor, which my friend Murray claims is a great flick, but that I unfortunately am unable to corroborate. It is high on my list of movies to see.)
2) Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Two Days in the Valley are great movies. If you haven’t seen them, you should.
But this one goes to the middle installment of perhaps the second best trilogy of all time. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers may not have been to this trilogy what Empire was to Star Wars, but it wasn’t what Temple of Doom was to the Indiana Jones saga either. In fact, it was much closer to the former than the latter.
(Just an FYI…I came across this review for LOTR: The Two Towers and felt compelled to share the hilarity.)
1) One Fine Day and Air Force One are both very good, entertaining movies featuring bankable movie stars and that hold up beyond their release dates.
But this is a two horse race between the best two movies on this entire list. Sure, some of you might argue that point, but I will tell you who won’t…Oscar. Both movies won all of what are known as the big five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Adapted Screenplay. Pretty remarkable when you think about it. In fact, to date, only one other film ever achieved that feat: Silence of the Lambs, in 1991.
It Happened One Night is a great love story starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and directed by Frank Capra, who delivers one of his trademark feel-good stories. Excellent performances and writing propelled this movie to unparalleled status (the first film ever to sweep the big five Academy Awards).
But the winner here is the second film to ever sweep the big five. The difference is that my choice for the number one slot also garnered four additional nominations (Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing and Original Score), and is considered among the top ten or twenty movies of all time on most lists that matter (not that this one doesn’t).
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, based on Ken Kesey’s masterful novel, is one of the few examples of a book adaptation which might actually rival the book upon which it is based. Nicholson and Louise Fletcher certainly earned their Oscars and Brad Dourif, Sydney Lassick, Christopher Lloyd, William Redfield, Danny DeVito and Will Sampson (as the Chief) headlined an incredible supporting cast.
(Oh, and for those who want a mention of One Night at McCool’s and The First Wives Club…umm yeah.)
Thanks for taking the time to read this list. I hope it primed those interested for the upcoming Oscars. Go Midnight in Paris, for whatever that’s worth. And please feel free to disagree with any of the above using the comments feature below and to add any films you believe I forgot (or more likely purposely omitted).
2 responses to “Movies by the Numbers…”
How about Raging Bull? It starts with “R” and four has an R in it.
Great point, as usual, Levin. So glad you were able to make us just a little dumber with your comment. I am genuinely sorry no De Niro or Pesce movies made my list, though. I will do better next time.