Great Films: Defintions by Various Critics

Great Films: Definitions

Crowther, Bosley, The Great Films (Vintage Films).

The work of great artists follows a logical and progressive development. There is evolution of his thematic concerns chronologically

Vincent Canby (N.Y. Times, Feb 2, 1986):

Good films work on a number of levels simultaneously

Unsuccessful movies don’t even work on one.

To enjoy these movies, we must actively participate in them. We can’t tune in and out at will, which one can do while watching the Rocky movies, without missing anything important.


A good movie is ahead of the viewer at all times; When the viewer is ahead, it’s no good.

A work which is more than the sum of its parts

A film succeeds if it provokes emotion.  The more meaningful the emotion, the better the film.

A test for movie: Is this movie as interesting as the same things would be happening in real life.

Emil Zola: “A corner of nature seen through the temperament.”

All great works constantly change their meanings or reveal new ones, as a result of the dynamic relationships with the historical/cultural situation within which they are perceived.


Robin Wood:

Great works are statements about the human condition, about life and they are essentially self-contained and self-sufficient.

A successful work of art must be self-sufficient, its significance arising from the interaction of its parts.

They enable spiritual exaltation–the momentary intimation of the transcendent (like orgasm and religious experience).

Great art strives–however implicitly–toward the realization of norms. It’s not a matter of whether a work is optimistic or pessimistic.  It’s a matter of the nature of the creative impulse.

Andrew Sarris:

Great films have to have hidden meanings, different levels, different layers.


David Edelstein (Village Voice, Nov 27, 1984):

As in all masterpieces, technique and emotion are inseparable.


David Thomson’s Great Films:

Birth of a Nation

Bonnie and Clyde

The Deer Hunter

King Kong

All monuments worthy of some shame and much exhilaration.

World of art made out of noveletta:

Daisy Kenyon

Imitation of Life

Letter from an Unknown Woman

Mortal Storm

Shanghai Express

Shop Around the Corner

A Star Is Born



Great American Pictures

Blue Velvet (grows larger with time)

Citizen Kane

Night of the Hunter



 John Simon, p. 341

Rules of the Game

I Vitelloni


Here Is Your Life (Jan Troell)

One Fine Day (Ermano Olmi)





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