Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Greatest Films Ever Made

Every ten years, Sight & Sound magazine polls critics -- and, for the last two instalments, directors -- to determine their choices as the ten greatest films of all time.  I'm not going to lie, adding the directors to the poll kind of splits the news.  The big headline from this year is that Vertigo finally ousted Citizen Kane from the top of the critics' poll, though the directors voted another film (Tokyo Story) as the best.  I guess the critics' poll still has history on its side so it's considered 'the' authority but still, way to dilute your rankings, Sight & Sound.

The critics' choices….
1. Vertigo
2. Citizen Kane
3. Tokyo Story
4. The Rules Of The Game
5. Sunrise
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. The Searchers
8. Man With A Movie Camera
9. The Passion of Joan Of Arc
10. 8 1/2

The directors' choices….
1. Tokyo Story
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
3. Citizen Kane
4. 8 1/2
5. Taxi Driver
6. Apocalypse Now
7(tie). The Godfather
7(tie). Vertigo
9. Mirror
10. Bicycle Thieves

I heartily endorse visiting the BFI website to check their index of past results, including a searchable index of what films have appeared on what critics' and directors' lists over the years.  You will find an astonishing array of "wait, they picked THAT as one of the TEN BEST MOVIES EVER?!" selections that will blow your mind.  The British Film Institute's website is down at the moment or else I'd provide a link, but to give you an example, one guy actually had Artificial Intelligence on his list.  Words fail me.  You can see the all-time top 10 results in quick-and-dirty fashion on Sight & Sound's Wikipedia page and it's fascinating to see what movies have fallen in and out of favour with voters over the years.

So the natural question is, what would I have voted for if I'd been asked about the 10 greatest movies in the history of cinema?  I'm glad you asked, hypothetical straw man!  That term 'greatest' is a pretty loaded term that seems to carry more weight than simply listing five favourites.  That said, if I enjoy watching someone like Back To The Future over and over again and it never gets old, is that not the mark of a really great film?

Here are my choices.  Since I'm going by Sight & Sound rules, I'm not allowed to consider certain films and sequels as a single piece.  For instance, The Godfather I & II were counted as a single entry in past editions of the poll, and thus made the list on a couple of occasions.  This year, however, it was ruled that the films had to be separated, which may explain why Godfather fell off the critics' list.  I bring this up just because if we were allowed to vote for 'combined' films, I'd vote for Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy as a whole.  So that one gets the jury prize.  

Honourable mentions…
Ikiru, Rear Window, A Streetcar Named Desire, American Graffiti, The General, The Big Lebowski, A Fish Called Wanda, Back To The Future, City Lights, Mary Poppins, Bonnie & Clyde, Do The Right Thing, Goodfellas, Duck Soup, Pan's Labyrinth, High Noon

My votes….
10. Memento
9. Casablanca
8. Chinatown
7. Dr. Strangelove
6. Taxi Driver
5. Fargo
4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. Rashomon
2. Pulp Fiction
1. Citizen Kane

It seems almost a cliche to put Citizen Kane atop any 'best films' list and yet there it is.  Kane has been described as essentially a summary of film techniques from the beginning of cinema to 1941 and (thanks to its use of deep focus cinematography, unique editing and story structure) beyond.  Beyond the technical stuff, it's a hell of a story, topped off by a phenomenal performance by Orson Welles, arguably the most single all-around talented person in film history.  To summarize, Welles directed, co-wrote and starred in maybe the best film ever made….when he was TWENTY-SIX YEARS OLD.  If that doesn't spur on your quarter-life crisis, I don't know what will.

As a bonus, here's my list of the ten greatest directors of all time, which is a somewhat lesser-known Sight & Sound poll.
10. Alfred Hitchcock
9. Steven Spielberg
8. Quentin Tarantino
7. Orson Welles
6. Billy Wilder
5. Buster Keaton
4. Ethan & Joel Coen
3. Charlie Chaplin
2. Martin Scorsese
1. Akira Kurosawa

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