If you don't know about Sight& Sound, they publish a list of "The 10 Greatest Films Ever Made" once a decade. They poll over 140 critics/scholars from around the world. Unlike all the other polls and lists out there, this one carries the most weight in the film community (forget that silly AFI list). Ebert even did a two-part post on his blog explaining the thought process behind his choices for his 2012 submission (where he added The Tree of Life). As someone who loves making lists, if only for the arbitrariness of it all, I figured I would ask myself -- if I could seriously vote in this poll, what are the 10 films I would submit?
Here are the 10 from 2002:
1. Citizen Kane (Welles, U.S., 1941)
2. Vertigo (Hitchcock, U.S., 1958)
3. The Rules of the Game (Renoir, Fr., 1939)
4. The Godfather & The Godfather: Part II (Coppola, U.S., 1972/74)
5. Tokyo Story (Ozu, Jap., 1955)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, U.S., 1968)
7. The Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, USSR, 1925)
7. Sunrise (Murnau, U.S., 1927) (tie)
9. 8 1/2 (Fellini, Italy, 1963)
10. Singin' in the Rain (Donen/Kelly, U.S., 1952)
So how can I begin to approach this? How can I try to set aside what my "favorites" are to push up "the best" or "the most important?" Or, more appropriately, how do I spice this already masterful list up? And so I submit, in the spirit of debate, 10 films in a "mock ballot." Since the Sight & Sound ballots are not weighted, these are sort of in no particular order.
1. Psycho (Hitchcock, U.S., 1960)
Vertigo has kind of coalesced as Hitch's most masterful film, and the one most critics pick as representative of his work ahead of Notorious or Rear Window. In Psycho though, Hitchcock combines his preoccupation with television and cinema into a different kind of aesthetic. Shooting on backlots, using a TV crew, working with black and white, pushing the violence/sex envelope -- these were all notable, along with the sheer inventiveness he directed the horror story (the gothic architecture, contrast lighting, not to mention that still-stunning "shower scene"). But it also helped re-write Hollywood's rules on the cusp of its collapse in the Sixties.
2. 8 1/2 (Fellini, Italy, 1963)
Consider this "The Italian Pick." I know it's traditional, I know it's not very surprising, but it's hard to imagine a better movie-about-movies. It has all the magic, all the madness of the screen; its construction is beautiful and dizzying, its semi-autobiographical approach captures Fellini at a lightning moment of transition. Not to mention a moment the Italian cinema in general questioned the naivete of neo-realism, shooting them headlong into a 1960s/70s of actively negotiating the boundaries of "cinematic reality."
It's almost too easy to make the argument that all sci-fi since 1968 has come out of 2001. The film is its own black monolith, beckoning filmmakers since forward toward some kind of destiny. Be it in the fantasies of Lucas or the brooding stuff of Tarkovsky, Kubrick set the bar for mixing visual effects, philosophy, and ambition. It is so precise, so formally magnificent, transforming space into a land of vast wonder and boring particularities. It ruminates freely on man's reach, technology's limitations, and the mysteries of the universe.
There have been plenty of political movies, movies about political revolutions, or simply urban action movies in the years since Algiers, but none come close to touching it. Not only is it masterfully constructed--a damn good war thriller--but it has issues of de-colonization, terrorism, torture that ring horrifically relevant today. It's one of those movies that's almost impossible to get through college film courses without seeing, and for good reason: It's a great film to teach with, a great film to write on, reflect on. Its possibilities remain limitless.
5. City Lights (Chaplin, U.S., 1931)
Chaplin or Keaton? Which Chaplin? Which Keaton? These are almost impossible choices when trying to figure out the crowning work of Hollywood's earliest screen comics, but it seems they deserve a spot on any list. Beyond Chaplin's obvious physicality and his innate sense of character and timing, his use of space and his recognition of how to use the camera unobtrusively as a director are his most magnificent qualities. In City Lights, he captures a kind of tenderness that is utterly transcendent. Its comedy is universal, ever-lasting, but its heart and spirit are absolutely one of a kind.
While the cinema can't totally lay claim to the Western (it does, after all, have a very rich heritage in painting and novels), it is probably the most "important" genre the cinema has produced, if only in terms of its quantity, influence, and how many issues so key to film studies and its evolution can be explored through the genre. Ford and Hawks are certainly key figures, but it's hard to beat Leone's 1968 mythological opus--written and filmed almost like a massive scholarly work itself, it's a downright brilliant and ever-rewarding fountain.
Yep, I went there. Nothing can take away from Citizen Kane, and at the end of the day, it's the better movie. Its importance has been put on such a pedestal (whether you think rightfully or not), that I can't help but try to substitute something else. Now that WB has finally released a watchable version of Ambersons, hopefully more people can see it, revel in it, and see it as more ambitious than Kane, an achingly beautiful film with one of the craziest post-production stories to come out of Hollywood.
This is kind of a weird choice, I know. But I have such admiration, such sincere awe for Herzog's filmmaking. And really, there's nothing else quite as adventurous. Aguirre is a real breathtaking film, a journey into hell that is every bit as morbid and revealing as Coppola's Apocalypse Now. There's a roughness, an intensity to it bred out of Herzog's own eccentricities and his expert partnership with Klaus Kinski. The stuff dreams are made of.
Kurosawa, like Hitchcock, is a director who has so many masterpieces it's hard to find that "representative film." A lot of people say The Seven Samurai -- and for good reason. It's impossible to deny the filmmaking. But Rashomon's narrative gamesmanship has, for me, always been slightly more profound, signalling why Kurosawa invests in samurai culture. It's not just about memory, but its about value systems, about the construction of personal histories, about the purpose of narrative itself.
I have seen Un Chien Andalou more than half a dozen times over the last six or so years of my life. I intend to watch it dozens of times in my life. Every time I see it, it's a completely different film. More remarkable than Bunuel and Salvador Dali's commitment to translating the logic of dreams to the grammar of film is how this short film seems to represent everything and signify nothing. Through giant leaps in continuity, stunning graphic matches, beautiful visual effects, and a "narrative" that may or may not exist, Un Chien Andalou isn't just the crowning work of surrealism on film -- it's a film that equally reveals something to us about how we watch movies, and maybe even something about ourselves.