May 2004

The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made
(St. Martin's Griffin, 1,200 pages, $24.95)
By The Film Critics of The New York Times; Edited by Peter M. Nichols

There is something fundamentally reassuring about going through the more than 1,100 pages of this hefty paperback. Here are a thousand movies spanning 75 years. All those early mornings on cold locations, all the worries over scripts, actors, budgets, ticking clocks! But the movies somehow got made, got reviewed and can, for the most part, be seen today on video, disc and Turner Classic Movies.

And how many times have you tuned in on the middle of a TCM feature, become mesmerized, but wondered about the actors, director, DP, editor and the plot? The New York Times Guide can answer your questions and evaluate the movie far beyond the "3½ stars" type of film books.

Originally published in 1999, the revised and updated Guide has added two new Times' critics' reviews (from 2000 through 2002) and altered what fit as a "Best" picture to make room for the addition of new ones. Almost every cast box of leading players and production staffs has been expanded.

The new "Introduction" by A.O. Scott offers some clever opinions about changes in movie appreciation over seven decades. Reading long ago reviews of favorite films can be as entertaining — it's as though you're watching the pictures all over again — as it is edifying. Some 50-year-old reviews seem as through they were written yesterday; others remind you to keep them within the context of their times, which may be part of their charm. "While the Times critics only occasionally refer to events taking place off screen or in other sections of the paper," Scott writes, "you can frequently make out the shadowy newsreel images of the 20th century flickering between their lines."

The format is reader-friendly, listing movies alphabetically and also by genre, and foreign films by country of origin. The uncut reviews are extensive — Scott's take on Spike Jonze's Adaptation (2002), for example, runs four columns — and, for the most part, offer incisive observations on various directors' creativity.

It is sheer pleasure to read the bright words of such Grand Old Men of film criticism as Bosley Crowther, Vincent Canby and Frank S. Nugent (Nugent was also a successful screenwriter, most notably for John Ford). In addition to its practical reference value, the Guide provides a unique perspective on film history. As editor Peter M. Nichols suggests, "unedited reviews ... leave no way to wriggle out of judgments made on deadline years ago. Are these really the 1,000 best films? An impossible question, of course, but from the accumulated evidence, it's apparent that Times critics knew a great movie when they saw one."

Review written by Lisa Mitchell


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