The Oscar Project
I hope you’ve had a chance to watch your first movie of the year. For the second movie of the year, it’s time to pick from films considered movie “classics”. I will leave it up to you to determine what defines a classic, but here is a list provided by Town & Country Magazine of the top 40 classic films of all time. Their definition seems to be films from roughly 1940-1970 (with a few outliers) and as you look at the list I’m sure you’ll agree that most of them are film classics. The article even has links to watch each film if it is available on streaming or where you can purchase or rent. I always check my local library first but occasionally do rent them from Amazon.
I actually watched my selection a bit early and was able to catch it on Amazon Prime before it left that service at the beginning of the year.
My Selection-Breakfast at Tiffany's
As we wrap up the first week of the 52 Week Film Challenge, I want to give a preview of what's coming up for this week. The category is a Film "Classic" and since there is no clear definition on what a classic truly is, I wanted to provide some food for thought to help you make your selection.
There will never be a definitive list of classic films, for a few reasons. If such a list did exist, it would be out of date once the next classic came along. There are plenty of films released in the last decade that already are considered classic by some people, while certain classics of 1900s may now seem old fashioned and quaint.
Then there is the question of culture. Like any artistic work, films are a product of the world in which they were created. A groundbreaking film like The Wizard of Oz has much more impact in 1939 than it does today. It's still fun, but the visual use of color had literally never been seen on film before. Similarly, you don't get a modern film like Avengers: Endgame without audiences that have an appetite for stories that are told over multiple films by many directors with a cast of hundreds. (I'm not claiming Endgame as a classic yet, but it may reach that status someday)
Another element to creating a classic is the feeling it gives you. Many people say they can't define a classic, but they know one when they see it. Films are works of art, special in the way they combine storytelling, visual images, and sound to create a world that most of us couldn't possibly image. They allow us to travel to other time periods and planets, to safely inhabit the lives of individuals completely different from ourselves, and experience events we could only visit in our dreams.
So what makes a film a classic?
I liked the way TCM host Ben Mankiewicz explained his definition of a classic film in a 2019 interview with CNN's Breeanna Hare for her article What makes a movie a classic? Mankiewicz lists two key attributes:
He goes on to give the example of Gone with the Wind. If you've seen the film, you know it is a grand story, told on some of the biggest stages of the time with some of the biggest stars of the day. Nothing about Gone with the Wind was done small. Connecting this back to my earlier call out of Endgame, I don't think you get a film like Avengers without first having Gone with the Wind. Film stories were generally not told on such a grand scale before 1939, but director Victor Fleming flung the doors wide open on the possibilities for larger on screen storytelling.
The two items leave plenty of room for interpretation, which is why I think they are a perfect definition for a classic film. This definition should be loose and flexible, allowing the concept of a classic to adjust with the times. Star Wars and Alien were groundbreaking in their own way in the late 1970s, but I could easily argue either one as a classic based on how they have shaped movie making over the last 40 years. Many of Hitchcock's films easily fall into the realm of classics and while some of less accessible today than they were at their release, one can look at them critically and understand their importance in the history of film.
How do YOU define a classic?
When it comes right down to it, this question about classic films is really up to you. If you're participating in the challenge, I urge you to pick a classic film that you've never seen. Go check out Citizen Kane to see what all the fuss is about. See if your mind gets warped by 2001: A Space Odyssey or gripped with fear in The Birds. Stretch beyond your normal comfort zone of movie watching, and try to put yourself in the mind of an audience member on the night the film was released, whether that was 80 years ago, or just at the turn of this century for a more "modern classic."
I've included a few links to lists and articles discussing the concept of a classic film. If you haven't joined the challenge yet, what are you waiting for? Just click the link below and sing up to start getting the guide to this challenge week by week. And once you do, please be sure to leave a comment down below with your selection for week two, a film classic.
Rotten Tomatoes list of Top 100 Classic Movies
What makes a movie a "classic"? by Jim Emerson (RogerEbert.com)
What makes a movie a classic? by Breeanna Hare (CNN.com)
Filmsite.org's list of classic films
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?