Movies, like all art, are subjective. There’s no way to precisely quantify the objective quality of cinema, yet there are some movies that most people with good taste consider perfect or near perfect. As with any piece of art, mileage will vary, but it’s interesting to look at some of the films people think are nearly flawless, which is why someone asks an online forum for other cinephiles’ examples of these kinds of movies. As a critic, I don’t agree with all the films in the discussion, but here I’ve picked out twelve that I wholly agree are great.
1. Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Starting with a film from Stanley Kubrick, who may well be the most cited “objectively good” filmmaker of all time, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a more interesting choice than his other films because it’s a comedy. Loosely based on the novel Red Alert by Peter George, the movie is a hilarious look at just how silly nuclear proliferation is and how that silliness could kill us all.
2. The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s The Thing is rightly cited as one of the best sci-fi movies ever. The movie tells a thrilling story of paranoia as an Antarctic research crew is infiltrated by an alien that can mimic human appearance. But it’s an all-time classic because of its phenomenal use of practical gore and creature effects.
3. Alien (1979)
Many film fans in the conversation call out Alien as not near flawless but outright “perfect.” The movie follows a space crew that answers a distress call only to be attacked by an alien creature. The film uses that premise to explore ideas of capitalism, humanity, and bodily violation in ways that have spawned innumerable think pieces and several books.
4. Wall-E (2008)
It makes sense that the best movie from a studio known for making great movies is considered almost perfect. Wall-E is a brilliant science fiction movie that follows a robot as he helps humanity return to Earth after it has been destroyed by climate change. What makes it even more impressive is that the first third of the movie has almost no dialogue and delivers some stunning pure visual storytelling.
5. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
Including three movies as one is undeniably a bit of a cheat. But so many film lovers in the thread call out the trilogy in full as near perfect that I feel fine about it. Based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings trilogy tracks the fantastical adventure of several characters seeking to destroy an evil ring of power and restore peace to their world.
The movies are all three hours long or more, and many fans prefer the extended editions, which are even longer, but still, one fan says, “The trilogy’s only flaw is not being longer.”
6. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but relocating it from the Congo to the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now takes a big swing, but one that entirely pays off. Multiple film fans cite the movie about a group of soldiers traveling upriver to find an AWOL colonel as a near-perfect movie, even if some of them prefer the original theatrical cut to the Redux version. Personally, I think both are great, which speaks to how flawless the film is.
7. Pulp Fiction (1994)
It’s become a joke that so many film fans love Pulp Fiction, but it’s beloved for a reason. The movie’s intertwining stories about criminals in Los Angeles, incredibly quotable script, and stylized visual language are extraordinarily watchable and worth celebrating.
8. Arrival (2016)
Based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Arrival centers on a linguist tasked with learning how to communicate with aliens who have arrived on Earth and discover why they are here. As one fan describes it, the movie is “Intelligent, suspenseful, thoughtful, and emotionally satisfying and mind-blowing at the end when it all ties together.”
9. Double Indemnity (1944)
Double Indemnity is based on the novel of the same name by James M. Cain and was adapted for the screen by Raymond Chandler, so it’s no wonder it’s one of the best-hardboiled noir films ever made. The film, which follows an insurance salesman seduced by a housewife into helping her kill her husband, is full of beautiful visuals. Still, the story and the snappy dialogue make it an all-time classic.
10. There Will Be Blood (2007)
Based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, There Will Be Blood may be the best movie ever to adapt a novel to the screen. The film, about an ambitious oil tycoon in the early 20th century, is so full of ideas, and so specifically told that it feels like the perfect adaptation and, therefore, a perfect movie.
11. Trainspotting (1996)
It’s incredible that a movie mainly about heroin can be hilarious and energetic, but that’s precisely what Trainspotting is. Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, the movie tells the story of a group of friends in Edinburgh trying to score drugs, money, and girls with a frantic and delightful momentum before reckoning with the consequences of heroin use.
12. Raw (2016)
Raw, which follows a young woman who develops a taste for human flesh shortly after arriving at veterinary school, doesn’t get a shout-out in the discussion. Still, it’s the only movie that’s ever made me cry because it’s so perfect. It’s not the only movie that’s made me cry (I cry at movies all the time); it’s the only movie where I was so moved by how perfectly all of its pieces came together that I cried just because it was an impeccable piece of art.
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