question of the day: What makes a movie great?

The Guardian and the Observer film critics banded together recently to name the top 25 films in a variety of genres — horror, sci-fi and fantasy, arthouse and drama, action, comedy, crime, romance; see the whole list of top films here — and ended up picking one film to top them all as their official Best Movie Ever: Chinatown. Explaining their choice:

The Guardian’s film critic, Peter Bradshaw, said: “Chinatown is such a powerful piece of myth-making, a brilliant evocation of Los Angeles as a spiritual desert.” The Observer’s Philip French considers it a movie of “near perfection”, ending “unforgettably with the line ‘Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown!'”.

Alongside Nicholson, Chinatown features career-best performances from Faye Dunaway – who notoriously clashed on set with director Polanski – and legendary film-maker John Huston, who played sinister landowner Noah Cross. Polanski himself had a cameo as a stiletto-wielding hoodlum who slices Nicholson’s nose open.

But nothing there really explains why this particular bit of mythmaking, this particular brilliant evocation, these particular fantastic performance are better than all the other films about which similar things could be said.

So, regardless of whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to listmaking; whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to Chinatown (or the other films on the genre lists): What makes a movie great? If a film must stand the test of time, is there an optimal age for a great film before it starts to feel dated? What are you personal criteria for cinematic greatness… and does it bother you when other film fans use different criteria?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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