The highly subjective task of compiling a list of the 10 best films of all time is nearly as daunting as the thought that plagues every film completist: How on earth will I ever catch up with more than a century’s worth of cinema? The answer, of course, is that nobody really can, and in a sense, surrendering to that truth offers a kind of liberation. We all want to devour as many great movies as possible, but there comes a time when we have to accept a certain morsel of defeat. Which is basically my disclaiming way of saying that I came at this project with a highly personal and minimally authoritative approach, selecting a group of favorites instead of stamping my feet and declaring history’s 10 best films. Contributors were encouraged to tackle their lists however they saw fit, and some have certainly delivered what they regard as the definitive cream of the crop. More power to those folks, and to those whose picks are far less populist and more Sight & Sound-friendly than mine. Ultimately, while I gave much consideration to artistic influence and chronological diversity (and winced at the snubbing of films like The Red Shoes, Pulp Fiction, My Own Private Idaho, and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), there were really only 10 titles I ever could have chosen. Quite simply, these movies changed my life.
Aliens (James Cameron, 1986). Ridley Scott’s Alien appeals to my cinephile instincts, as it’s unquestionably the most artful entry in a sci-fi saga I can’t live without. But ever since a childhood fraught with Ellen Ripley impersonations, my heart has belonged to James Cameron’s heavy-artillery sequel, the breathless actioner to Scott’s claustrophobic horror film. It is my favorite of all action movies, and its pacing has the looming, omnipresent rhythm of an elevated heart rate, which is all the more evoked by settings filled with arterial tunnels and air shafts. Though surely a chunk of easily swallowable, wannabe-feminist genre fare, Aliens is one of cinema’s great displays of maternal ferocity, which thrillingly crosses species lines. And while baddies come and go, it’s hard to think of a better nemesis unveiling than that of the regal Alien Queen, who’s introduced on an absurdly complex, reproductive Gigerian throne, tripling her already towering size. It’s a slow and shocking money shot, and what follows is a jam-packed final act that rockets by in a blink.