It’s difficult to pick a “best” film or even a favourite one. What’s the point anyway – there really is no need for this kind of silliness. There are so many great films after all. Nevertheless, I have little doubt what to pick when asked. It’s a film that astonished me when I first saw it. It’s one I think everybody should see. It still astonishes and captivates me.
For no reason at all other than to do Sunset Boulevard a little justice I’m going to take a look at one of those pointless lists. Billy Wilder’s masterpiece currently sits at fiftieth place on the IMDB list of top films. Trouble is, many people rating these films have no idea what they’re talking about (yes, even less than me!). Giving them the thumbs up or down, let’s see…
1. Shawshank: Great film but immensely overrated. Best film ever if you’re absolutely clueless. No.
2 & 3: Haven’t watched any Godfather films. Perhaps some day. Yes.
4. The Dark Knight: Self-indulgent drivel. Get the hell out of here. Absolutely not!
5. 12 Angry Men: Need to watch this one too. Will leave it where it is.
6. Schindler’s List: A very fine film. Yes.
7. Pulp Fiction: No.
8. Good, Bad, Ugly: Big fan but no way does it belong at these heights.
9. LotR: Return of the King: Absolute shite. Get out of here!
10. Fight Club: Love it, but it’s not this great.
11. LotR: Fellowship: The best LotR film but still not very good. Not as full of pointless puffed-up, waffly grandiose speeches as the others and much better than the awful book.
12. Empire Strikes Back: Big Star Wars fan but they don’t belong all the way up here.
13. Forrest Gump: Very entertaining… but seriously? Nope.
14. Inception: Tripe and bullshit of the highest order. Like the Nolan Batman films it’s self-indulgent vacuous nonsense.
15. One Flew Over… Can’t believe I haven’t watched this one either. As with the others I’ve left alone, I’m expecting great things.
16. LotR: The Two Towers: Oh, this is the second one. Then I have to apologise to the third one – didn’t watch it because this was so bad. Pity those poor orcs standing there patiently while the good guys are making their farcically over-long speeches about standing (or something). Needed a right kick up the arse and a bit of this:
17. Goodfellas: Haven’t seen this one either. Unlike the others I haven’t seen, I wonder why this one appears at such lofty heights…
18. The Matrix: Okay animé rip-off that was criminally overrated. Absolutely not.
19. Star Wars: Has a special place in my heart but still doesn’t belong here. One of the great things about it and the other early trilogy films is the long parts with no dialogue – where they show you this strange world full of curiosities. Modern self-indulgent, over-long and terribly-written films like pretty much anything from Nolan or Peter Jackson should pay attention: show, don’t tell!
20. Seven Samurai: Adding this to the list of ones to watch!
21. City of God: Very entertaining film but patronising bollocks, to be honest. No.
22. Se7en: No.
23. Silence Lambs: Nope.
24. Usual Suspects: Come on, how do these end up here!
25. It’s a Wonderful Life: Great film, deserves its place. With all the films I’ve cut it’s at seventh.
26. Life is Beautiful: I love this film. Don’t have the heart to demote it so I’ll leave it where it is.
27. Léon: No.
28. Once Upon a Time in the West: Opening sequence is absolutely superlative; rest of the film is pretty good. Demoted.
29. Interstellar: Yes, it does suffer from a lot of the same things as other Nolan films, but this one is so earnest and full of heart… whatever – it’s a great effort but it doesn’t belong here.
30. Saving PR: After the much-hyped “realistic” beach landing scene it reverts to a less realistic gung-ho war adventure. Still great fun, but not a truly great film.
31. Spirited Away: Beautiful film but immensely overrated.
32. American History X: Have seen bits of it. Demoted for now.
33. Casablanca: Huge fan, would almost cut it anyway… but I’ll leave it be.
34. Psycho. Overrated and no.
35. Raiders… Great fun and hugely entertaining but it would feel out of place among the greats.
36. City Lights: It’s on my list.
37. Rear Window: Yes, I’m going to demote it. Haven’t seen it in ages. Fits into the “Good, but…” category.
38. Intouchables: Great fun and it avoided so many pitfalls that pretty much every rich meets poor story end up in (pitfalls full of trite, patronising bullshit, then). Was going to leave it… but it just doesn’t belong among the greats.
39. Modern Times: Demoted. Yes. Amusing slapstick but there’s little worthwhile commentary here.
40. T2: Used to love this one. It’s still a lot of fun and one of the better action films, but that’s about it.
41. The Green Mile: Liked it but it’s not that great a film.
42. Whiplash: Whip-what? Demoted pending a viewing.
43. The Pianist: Not sure if I saw the whole thing or stopped watching. Nope.
44. Memento: This is the Nolan film that he’s been trading on. It’s deliberately opaque in a way I’d often take offence to… but it gets away with it. Not an immense classic so demoted.
45. The Departed: This one stays. Oh, yes!
46. Gladiator: Was surprised on seeing it – it’s actually very entertaining, a lot more so than its fake, contrived, dumb “historical” setting would suggest. Not leaving it on a list with Sunset Boulevard, though!
47. Back to the Future: It was hard enough knocking Raiders down a few pegs… it stays!
48. Apocalypse Now: Haven’t seen it but demoted pending a viewing.
49. Strangelove: Pretty funny but not this great.
50. Sunset Boulevard: It’s great. Go see it!
Good films that are overrated is one thing, but the amount of shite that floated to the top says a lot for lists such as this. Had to be tough with the demotions but there were still enough “fair enough” entries to keep Boulevard from the new IMDB top ten. Oh well!
William Holden is the perfect cynical not-a-hero for Sunset Boulevard. He’s a down-on-his-luck writer of scripts that don’t sell in Hollywood. Like many there he’s given up his life back home to try for the big time… and he hasn’t made it. With over-due bills to pay he resorts to trying to shake down any friends he has for the few bucks he needs to get to the next month… where he’d be in the same situation. As a narrator he seems to know the place inside-out. Probably because he’s passed all the way through and been rejected.
While dodging some debt collectors he stumbles into the house of a has-been film star – somebody who did make it big but whose talents are no longer needed. Somebody perhaps not entirely different to Holden’s character only she has more money than she could ever spend, having been the biggest star of the silent era. She’s been writing a script of her own and on hearing Holden is a writer insists that he go through it before she hands it in to Paramount. Holden has just sniffed an out from his immediate debt problems. Things don’t go quite to plan, though…
Hollywood in Sunset Boulevard is a rocky hazard onto which the dreams of so many wash up. It’s brutal, cold, uncaring and fake. In spite of the controversy the film generated in the town, much of its drama centres around the personal relationships of the main characters and the bizarre dynamics that unfold. It can be pretty dark, harrowing stuff. Hollywood is the rock that looms large over the whole show, though. It’s a Hollywood that might be familiar to those who have seen the David Lynch film Mulholland Drive, although that was deliberately opaque to the point where it’s actually insulting the intelligence as well as the patience of its audience. If I’m walking down the street and someone gives me the finger and hurls abuse at me like this one metaphorically does, I’m not going to turn around and proclaim it art out of some fear that I simple don’t “get it”. I get it. Go to hell Mulholland Drive, Sunset Boulevard is the work of art here and you’re just a pale imitation.
Sunset Boulevard is one film I’d pick out as being my “favourite”. On another day I might go for something else. That something else is a better film in pretty much every way. It’s uplifting, positive and has a redemptive message. It’s not escapist, however – it’s also full of tragedy and the harsh realities of life. Any film that can take everything that life can throw at you and not lose sight of just how wonderful it is to be here in the first place is something special. La meglio gioventù (Best of Youth) is truly remarkable and should be seen by everyone. If you don’t have the patience, grow it. It’s very probably going to be one of the best films you’ll ever see – and one with a very important message – one that has probably saved lives.