Lists are great. They inspire discussion, create arguments, and tend to spiral off into fun new lists. When you do a list about the “BEST” of anything it goes from being fun to becoming a hotbed for arguments. There’s no such thing as a definitive list but I’ve decided to pull from my rather extensive life of film watching and put it to good use.
This is not the “film critic’s top 100” list. There’s no guarantee Citizen Kane or The Bicycle Thief will be in the top echelon or even on the list. This is the 100 movies I would put my name on as my top 100. If I died tomorrow this would represent the 100 films I find most vital, special, or ones that bonded to whatever it is that makes me me. I’m not including documentaries, though that might make for a nice supplemental list.
The first 80 will be in no particular order. The last 20 will be in very particular order.
#2 – Jaws
This is the top twenty. These are in order.
Why is it here:
You like how yesterday’s entry’s web address made it look like I was choosing The Godfather 3? Well today’s entry is even better. Though I actually quite like Jaws 2 it’s in another universe than the original.
1976. I’m four years old. We’re at the theater, me and my folks. They figure I’ll either sleep through it or at least be mildly interested so they take my ass. There had never been a Jaws yet so they really didn’t have cause to worry that I’d be endangered by it. I wasn’t endangered by it. I fell in love. Even though I watched a few of the scarier moments through the sleeve of my astronaut jacket I was enraptured. A love of sharks was immediate. A love of Richard Dreyfus was immediate. I was four and it was the first cinema experience of my life. The triumverate of seeing Jaws, Star Wars, and Grease in sequential years in the movie theater kickstarted this path I’m still on. And it’s because of this. I wrote letters to Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfus at age 5 [unreturned, though I’ve met both since]. I digested books about sharks. I emulated Matt Hooper. It was as close to a religious experience as a nonbeliever like me can hope for.
It’s easy to see why. Jaws is a perfect marriage of visceral and emotionally warm. The family moments and interplay between the leading actor make the tension and the impending dread pop. The lack of resources forced the filmmakers to focus on character. The music is as iconic as music can be. Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfus, and Roy Scheider are pitch perfect. Bruce the shark, when functional, is terrifying even when the the special effects aren’t wholly convincing. When it’s not scary, it’s charming. When it’s not charming, it’s deeply funny, and when it’s not that it’s that special mixture only vintage Spielberg was able to mine.
The fact it’s still relevant and effective today seals its place in forever. Jaws will always be Jaws and special. Like Metropolis, Nosferatu, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz. It’s transcended celluloid and become stardust.
Moments to savor:
Kids in turmoil. Naked swimmers. Eyes leaving dead bodies. Shark stomach contents. Barrels busting from water. Men paddling home. Kids emulating their parents at dinner. Nails on chalkboards. Scar comparisons. Shaw’s speech. Shitty mayors. Bespectacled grievers. Dogdeaths. Blood geysers. Vomit-inducing corpses. Not boating accidents. Doll’s eyes.
I was a producer on a below average horror film called Grizzly Park and two of my co-workers and all around great guys (Erik Hollander and James Gelet) made the excellent The Shark is Still Working documentary. They went through so much to make it, fought for people to take them seriously, and then it was so good it’s a special feature on the Jaws blu. Great guys. As an aside, Erik Hollander did the cover art for our Grim Reaper: End of Days as well.