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Gareth Higgins’ top 100 films of the magazine’s lifetime (1977-2015)

Gareth Higgins

Third Way has been around since 1977, and the movies were born in 1895, which means our lovely magazine has lived through about a third of the history of cinema. We're still trying to figure out the possibilities and power of this extraordinary medium, light dancing on a silver screen (or an HD one at home), people pretending to be other people, movement and sound interweaving with the dreams of a thousand artists and craftspeople praying that what results will surpass what has gone before.

An architect friend said to me recently that he feels the purpose of his craft is 'to help people live better,' and with those few words, I think he describes the perfect lens for experiencing any art form. A great film - or painting, or book, or piece of music - comes into being when the highest craft and most humane content meet. (By the way, 'humane' doesn't mean 'easy' or 'light' the portrayal of violence in The Godfather is humane, because it is felt; the violence in Transformers is ugly and nihilistic; the violence in a Tarantino film sometimes seems to be both felt and pointless.) Movies matter, partly because the stories we tell shape, and re-shape, and are shaped by our lives. As we say farewell to Third Way, where I've been privileged to share my thoughts on cinema for over a decade, here are my choices for the 100 greatest films - those where creativity and humanity kissed each other - of the magazine's lifetime.


1977: The Duellists
Ridley Scott's first feature remains his best, a painterly masterpiece about the relationship between misguided notions of honour and pride, and the cycle of violence.

1978: Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick's portrayal of Depression era brokenness is the great poetic symphony of 1970s cinema.

1979: Being There
Peter Sellers reimagines the Christ figure as Chance the gardener, childlikeness wiser than politics.

1980: Heaven's Gate
The myth of the American West retold as a story of plunder and dehumanisation, driven by greed.

1981: Das Boot
A war story told from the perspective of the 'bad guys', inspiring empathy for the enemy.

1982: Tootsie
A comedy with brains, in which a man temporarily gives up his privilege, and grows up.

1983: Fanny and Alexander
Ingmar Bergman's enormous portrait of family and religious life, in light and shadow.

1984: Paris, Texas
A man appears out of nowhere, trying to make amends for his past; such pain and hope has never been more honestly portrayed.

1985: Shoah
The unparalleled Holocaust documentary; cinema as testament, warning, and epic act of humanity.

1986: Jean de Florette & Manon des Sources
Shakespearian tragedy as an invitation to notice the humanity of people we dislike.

1987: Babette's Feast
A film about finding home at a shared table.

1988: The Last Temptation of Christ
Jesus as more fully human - and therefore more follow-able - than any previous cinematic interpretation.

1989: Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee's confrontation of racial tension, hope for a multicultural future, and questioning of how to get there.

1990: The Decalogue
Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski's series on the Ten Commandments is not only an icon for deepening our sense of the world, but was instrumental in the abolition of death penalty in his home country.

1991: The Fisher King
The loveliest realistic fantasy of people healing their trauma by being themselves in community.

1992: Unforgiven
The beginnings of an apology for how movies often make vengeance seem like fun.

1993: Groundhog Day
The great comedy of personal transformation.

1994: The Hudsucker Proxy
A magical play on the triumph of good over evil, through taking one simple step at a time.

1995: Smoke
Community made safe through truthful storytelling.

1996: Lone Star
Stories made safe through truthful community.

1997: Life is Beautiful
A child made safe through a lie more holy than the truth.

1998: After Life
Hirokazu Koreeda's magnificent fantasy of how to make a life: find a memory that inspires gratitude, and live within it.

1999: Magnolia
An urban fog into which erupts the sacred.

2000: Amores Perros
We're all in this together, we all have regret, and every day the story - of love or pain - is beginning for someone else.

2001: AI: Artificial Intelligence
Spielberg's film of Stanley Kubrick's dream project is unjustly criticized - it's an astonishing warning about what happens when we surrender our hearts to money and machines.

2002: September 11
Eleven short films reflecting on national trauma from international perspectives; Sean Penn's New York-set contribution is a profound lament.

2003: Angels in America
Made for television, but operatic in scale, a film about AIDs and prejudice that illuminates religion, memorializes suffering, and offers healing.

2004: The Village
As if Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut collaborated with Carl Jung to write a story about how not to respond to threats, both real and imagined.

2005: Into Great Silence
Cinema as an icon for meditation.

2006: The Fountain
An awe-inspiring science fiction of the heart, revealing the waste of life in fearing death.

2007: The Visitor
A deceptively gentle drama, concealing righteous anger at injustice.

2008: Wall-E
A cartoon for everyone, with tears of joy and a prophetic vision of environmental stewardship.

2009: Where the Wild Things Are
How to befriend the monsters in your mind; an invitation to enjoy the journey toward accepting every part of ourselves.

2010: Shutter Island
How not to befriend the monsters in your mind; a cry for sanity in the post-9/11 era.

2011: A Separation
A story about an Iranian divorce that both opens up an often demonized culture, and asks us to love before we demand to understand.

2012: Stories We Tell
You may think that tragedy rules, but you can't outrun the mask of comedy.

2013: 12 Years a Slave
A story that had not yet been so starkly told, a work of art that mandates attention and action.

2014: Selma
The most honest biopic ever, because it portrays a heroic figure as a real human being, whose actions can then be emulated rather than merely admired.

2015: Shaun the Sheep Movie
Overflowing with joy, and welcome for anyone who feels marginalized, it embodies the holy notion that the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.


Runners Up: Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Thelma & Louise; Apocalypse Now; Fearless; All That Jazz; Schindler's List; The Assassin; Short Cuts; Inside Out; Three Colors Trilogy; Spotlight; Babe: Pig in the City; Love & Mercy; Limbo; Listen to Me Marlon; The Hurt Locker; Love is Strange; The Thin Red Line; Calvary; Yi-Yi; The Muppet Movie; The Secret Life of Words; Tess; In the Mood for Love; The Elephant Man; Hulk; The Black Stallion; The Royal Tenenbaums; The Verdict; Revanche; Koyaanisqatsi; Monsoon Wedding; Once Upon a Time in America; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; The Killing Fields; Sideways; Hannah & Her Sisters; Downfall; Wings of Desire; Stranger than Fiction; Rain Man; Letters from Iwo Jima; Crimes and Misdemeanor; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Field of Dreams; The Act of Killing; Secrets and Lies; Holy Motors; The Apostle; Cloud Atlas; Inception; The Great Beauty; Quick Change; Hugo; The Guard; The Tree of Life; Brokeback Mountain; Munich; The New World; A Serious Man; Cach.;

Your choice here! That's my hope for all criticism, and why it's been such a pleasure to write for Third Way. Thank you for reading.


Gareth Higgins is the author of Cinematic States; he is the founder of the community making peace through story and image