So many lists come out by so many different websites, writers, Leonard Maltins, institutes, TV stations and what have you about the greatest films of all time. All these people may differ as to what's #1, but it's generally the same usual suspects, though The Usual Suspects though high, doesn't generally rank in the greatest ever. The big films are The Godfather,
The internet, though coming pretty close to that group, offers some alternatives, basically because it's fan voting and you know how us fans are, we have no concept of history and find pretty much every movie that came out before The Graduate to be quite slow, and boring, and hell, I don't even have that short of an attention span. I'm sure many internet voters don't like to think about movies before Star Wars, after all, the 1970s consist of real dirty cameras making nearly every movie that came out in that decade have a 4 o'clock in the afternoon on a rainy day feel.
Perhaps the most shocking ranking from any major media outlet would be www.IMDB.com ranking The Shawshank Redemption numero uno. Granted, this is a fan voting website, but the mathematical equation it uses is a sound one. Shawshank, just like Pulp Fiction lost out on the Best Picture Oscar to Forrest Gump and even though I once viewed that as one of the Academy's biggest blunders, it's really not as bad as it seems. All 3 are very fine films, and Fiction isn't aging nearly as well as the other two. That being said, these 3 films always seem to enter the conversation of the best films of the modern era, but what is the modern era?
Do I go by the films having color? Do I go by when MTV came out? Laugh at that one if you will because MTV sucks, but there is a generation called "The MTV Generation" which I'm sadly apart of, and it really wasn't until MTV came out, that a viewer was exposed to such rapid cutting of film that made our attention spans nil, and hindered our ability to watch slower dramatic dialog driven scenes. Obviously, this isn't a good thing, but I don't want it to go unaccounted for.
Let's start with film having sound. Silent films are about as relevant as poetry nowadays, so drawing a line between silent and sound for the modern era wouldn't really change anyone's opinions today. The purpose of creating a modern era for film is for someone who loves movies and can't watch Casablanca because even though they understand what it did for film, just finds it very boring. Many of the "classics" are like this, and I'm a fan speaking. My generation is the grand children of the people who got to experience this film in the theaters, and now only a small number of us appreciate it, and naturally, that number will continue to decline with each generation. Even though an older film may have advanced film more so than a movie today, it's been so long, we need to focus on "modern" advancements that will change the films of tomorrow.
The next line we could draw would be when the Academy Awards came out, but again, that was a long time ago. There'd be no separation, as there'd also be no separation if we decided that the addition of color was when modern film began. Gone With the Wind is indeed in color, but it can't be considered a modern movie because as great as it is, there's no way the modern day film lover can appreciate it the same way it was appreciated back then. If anything, it's probably best used as a visual aid while teaching short attention spanned brats what life was like in the south during the Civil War because "book learnin" has been phased out by their fundy parents.
Another item that changed film was the television entering American homes in the 1950s. The first movie I've seen that shows a family watching TV in it would be Rebel Without a Cause and though it seems closer to what would be a modern era film, I can't think of one reason why it's modern at all, aside from the fact that there's a TV in it. Whoopty-do. The 1950s is still pretty much a black and white decade (in more ways than just film) and films are paced slowly, so it's pretty easy for me to disregard films from this decade.
"Classic" is a great word when trying to find a good definition for modern. It's hard to argue that if something is considered a classic that it could be in the running for being a great modern film. This term applies to every great movie until at least the 60s, but I'll stop here for a minute. It's the 1960s when the media started winning the battle for people's minds over their parents or other influences. You had numerous counter-cultures and people showing live footage of the Vietnam War. Protests of war and race relations happened all the time (or at least twice). A movie like Midnight Cowboy would come out and seem very similar to all the movies we watch today. It's very hard for me to not consider this one a "Modern Day" movie. Is it a classic? I think so, but when you compare it to the ones I've previously mentioned, it doesn't seem to fit in the same breath. How about The Graduate? It came out a couple years earlier, and they both have Dustin Hoffman in his prime, who still acts today, but I have a much more difficult time calling The Graduate a modern day film because it's such a classic. Same goes for films like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Does critical acclaim matter?
2001 is the first movie I've seen to be geared towards the drug culture which became so prevalent in the late 1960s, so it almost seems modern, not to mention how ahead of it's time it was with the way they created "outer space." Does something being way ahead of it's time make it modern? Probably, but I'm sure the movies of the previous decades did this too. This is the dumbest thing I hope to ever say (and I'm sure it won't be) but the late 1960s are closer to us now than the 1930s, so something that changed film closer to where we are now, obviously has more validity when it comes to defining something as modern. It'd be nice to say, "Ok, the 1960s are where Modern Films begin" but the examples I just pointed out prove otherwise. Not to mention films like Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago (which sucks by the way). These are considered classics and in no way could I consider them to be modern because of the way they're paced.
It can't all come down to pacing though either, because then I'd have to eliminate the entire decade of the 1970s, and many films that bring us up through today. The Godfather may be a nice place to draw the line because when you look at the critically acclaimed big four I dropped in the first paragraph, it came out 3 decades after the next closest piece. That has to mean something, doesn't it? Kind of like how The Shawshank Redemption has so much clout now, and that came another two decades after The Godfather? The 70s also gave us Jaws which is your first summer blockbuster and the beginning of Steven Spielberg. It also gave us Star Wars which may be the most popular movie of all time. Special affects and action were becoming more important than things like dialog and drama which is very close to what we have in film today. Still, aren't The Godfather, Jaws and Star Wars all indeed classics? Yes, and no. Although it's hard for me not to consider The Godfather a classic (and that's probably because it is), Star Wars and Jaws don't have that same feel, so they are indeed what one would call a "Modern Classic", so now I'm getting somewhere.It doesn't look like it's easy drawing a simple line in the sand and saying, "This is the year!" or "This is the decade!" when defining a modern classic. Some movies of the late 60s qualify, some movies in the 70s don't qualify, well, at least The Godfather doesn't basically due to it's own awesomeness. The line I'm going to use from here on out, is kind of going to be like the "Is this baseball player a Hall of Famer" argument. If I hear the name of the movie, and immediately think it's a "classic," I can't possible call it modern. If there's any doubt to its "classicness" or maybe it's simply underrated from previous generations, it may have a chance. The Shawshank Redemption is the Modern Era's Casablanca, that's for sure.