The greatest film ever made began with the meeting of two brilliant minds: Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi seer Arthur C Clarke. ‘I understand he’s a nut who lives in a tree in India somewhere,’ noted Kubrick when Clarke’s name came up – along with those of Isaac Asimov, Robert A Heinlein and Ray Bradbury – as a possible writer for his planned sci-fi epic. Clarke was actually living in Ceylon (not in India, or a tree), but the pair met, hit it off, and forged a story of technological progress and disaster (hello, HAL) that’s steeped in humanity, in all its brilliance, weakness, courage and mad ambition. An audience of stoners, wowed by its eye-candy Star Gate sequence and pioneering visuals, adopted it as a pet movie. Were it not for them, 2001 might have faded into obscurity, but it’s hard to imagine it would have stayed there. Kubrick’s frighteningly clinical vision of the future – AI and all – still feels prophetic, more than 50 years on.—Phil de Semlyen
When it comes to greatness in art, nothing is set in stone. There is no such thing as an objective, definitive canon, no matter the medium, and no matter what a media outlet may tell you when it releases a list of, oh, say, the greatest movies ever made – present company included. Sure, it’s a surefire way to get readers clicking. But we’re not so foolish as to think of ourselves like Moses on the mountain, proclaiming these films as the best of all-time, with no room for debate. Instead, we’re merely hoping to shake up (and in some spots confirm) the conventional wisdom, introduce different perspectives and, maybe most importantly, spark passionate debate. Because the only thing better than watching movies is arguing over them.
Don’t get us wrong, though: we feel pretty strongly about movies over here, and we’ll defend our picks until our throats are raw and our typing fingers worn down to nubs. But we’re not brutes. Really, we’re just trying to help. If you’re a fledgling cinephile looking to solidify your film-buff bona fides, think of this as a handy reference guide. And if you’ve already seen everything, take it as a way to challenge your own canon. Because with all the ground covered here – over 100 years, multiple countries, and just about every genre imaginable – you’re bound to find something you disagree with.
Written by Abbey Bender, Dave Calhoun, Phil de Semlyen, Bilge Ebiri, Ian Freer, Stephen Garrett, Tomris Laffly, Joshua Rothkopf, Anna Smith and Matthew Singer