A writer friend of mine (see her blog here) suggested a series of blog discussions from various writers about various topics. The first centers on favorite films from each decade. I decided to accept her invitation to throw in my two cents, so this is my list of the best films by decade as I see it.
1930's - I haven't seen very many 1930's movies in their entireties, so I am going with the only one that I can think of off the top of my head - The Wizard of Oz. This is a film that was always a yearly favorite of mine when it was played on network TV in the spring (seems like it was typically around Easter). It set the standard for all sorts of things that would eventually become standard film fair - color picture (of course), special effects, wardrobe, and artistic filming. This last standard was used to great effect when the film changed from black & white to color. What better way to artistically demonstrate the switch from boring old Kansas to the land of Oz? Just brilliant filmwork.
1940's - It's a Wonderful Life. Panned by critics and unpopular with audiences at the time, this movie saw a resurgence in the 1980's. I was right there in the surge, and this has been a Christmas favorite in our house ever since. If I try hard enough, I can still squeeze out a tear when Clarence gets his wings.
1950's - Rear Window. Another Jimmy Stewart classic that has always been one of my favorite old school thrillers. Admittedly, I don't think I've seen it since I was a teenager, but I was always amazed at the how Hitchcock pulled off a great thriller despite the fact that the entire movie, with the exception of one brief scene, takes place in the same room with a main character who is laid up in a bed. And yet it's almost that filming style that makes the movie such a great thriller. As the viewer, you are Jimmy Stewart's character.
1960's - The Sound of Music. From here forward, they'll all be tough calls. But for the 60's, I think the pinnacle is The Sound of Music. Such a moving story, memorable sing-along-with songs, and superb acting.
1970's - Star Wars. Yeah, it's the easy choice, but I was the Star Wars generation. It's as defining of my childhood as Guns n' Roses was to my teenage years. I remember finding a Yoda action figure in K-Mart, sitting on a random shelf where someone had deposited it, and being so excited that I was finally going to add Yoda to my growing collection. An older kid walked by and saw it and was impressed, and begged me to tell him where I found it, since there were none left in the Toy aisle. I pointed to the shelf where it had been laying, and I remember him and his friends literally swarming the shelf to try to find another one.
1980's - The Indiana Jones Trilogy. The defining set of movies for me growing up in the 1980's. Action, adventure, perfectly constructed stories, and an intellectual who doubled as a treasure-hunter as the star. The perfect combination. I have probably seen these three movies at least 100 times a piece, no exaggeration. And yes, I liked Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, too.
1990's - Braveheart. This movie is really the pinnacle of the 90's for me because it was made at a time when I was first discovering my love for history. Obviously the Indiana Jones obsession implies that too, but it wasn't until I was older that I discovered that I am a historian at heart. Braveheart, of course, is full of historical inaccuracies, but I didn't know that at the time :) I admit it's a little hard for me now to name this as my favorite 90's movie, because I have grown to despite Mel Gibson so much, but I try not to let my opinion of him now affect my affection for his older movies. I have to mention that Titantic is a very, very close second for this decade. Also, Schindler's List is right up there as well. My grandfather's funeral in 1988, when I was 13, is the only time in my life that I can remember crying harder than what I cried at the end of this movie.
2000's - Frankly, I don't see movies very often any more, and those from the 2000's that I have seen have not impressed themselves indelibly upon me. I really enjoyed Old School and the Lord of the Rings trilogy was okay. A much bigger fan of Harry Potter books than Harry Potter movies. I suppose I'll pick Gladiator. Good historical fiction, good story, and was at least somewhat of an inspiration for a book idea that I am still working on.