Eons ago, while still in high school, I composed a list of my all-time favorite films for the first time. The inspiration to undertake such an endeavor was prompted by the 1982 Sight & Sound poll that Roger Ebert wrote about in a mid-’80s edition of his Movie Home Companion (the 1982 Sight & Sound list can be found here). I haven’t followed Sight & Sound’s pattern and revised my own list every 10 years, but I did institute a personal rule that I’ve always adhered to since that initial teenage list: A film has to be at least 10 years old to be eligible for inclusion. Too often, people get swept up in ecstasy over a film they’ve seen for the first time and can’t fight the tendency to overrate it. Then, years later, they see that film again and wonder what the hell they were thinking. That’s why I think all films need time to age, like a fine bottle of wine, to test their taste over time. As for the distinction between “best” and “favorite,” as far I’m concerned, it’s a pointless one. Each submitted list represents someone’s subjective opinion. I hardly can claim my 10 films represent the “best” movies ever made as no one appointed me the arbiter to rule on such absolutes where none can exist.
As always, the trickiest part comes with rankings. For a long time, I simply rattled off my 10 favorite films in alphabetical order, but people tend to insist that if you’re going to share your opinion on movies, you had better settle on the very best. Deciding my number one came easily, but I’ve frequently shuffled and re-shuffled the rankings of numbers two through 10. If I had my druthers, they’d all be ranked at number two. My 2007 list went all the way to 100, and I’ve done that again this year, with the films landing after about number 20 tending to be arbitrary, and a lot of great films not making the cut at all. Here at The House though, you’re only getting my 2012 Top 10.
10. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950). Billy Wilder’s screenplay with Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman Jr. proves surprisingly malleable, never fitting easily into one genre and playing differently in each viewing. It can be the darkest of Hollywood satires or the tragedy of a woman driven insane by a world that’s passed her by. Gloria Swanson’s brilliant performance as Norma Desmond can come off as a vulnerable madwoman or a master manipulator. Similarly, William Holden’s down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe Gillis looks like a shallow opportunist in some scenes, an in-over-his-head dupe in others. The layers make Sunset Boulevard fresh and endlessly watchable. Wilder and his co-writers always produced great dialogue, but I believe the film stands as Wilder’s greatest work as a director as well.