For most of my adult life, the subject of all-time great movies interested me a lot, but in the past few years, that interest has waned considerably.This fact came to my attention with the release of Sight and Sound’s all-time great movie list, which they release every decade starting in 1952. The list has several significant changes, and those changes made me think about this topic again. I use this thread to work out some thoughts on this, as well as comment on the list. By the way, here’s the top 100:
- Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
- Vertigo (1958)
- Citizen Kane (1941)
- Tokyo Story (1953)
- In the Mood for Love (2000)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
- Beau Travail (1999)
- Mulholland Drive(2001)
- Man With a Movie Camera (1929)
- Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
- Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
- The Godfather (1972)
- The Rules of the Game (1939)
- Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962)
- The Searchers (1956)
- Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
- Close-Up (1990)
- Persona (1966)
- Apocalypse Now (1979)
- Seven Samurai (1954)
- (Tied for 21st) The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
- (Tied for 21st) Late Spring (1949)
- Playtime (1967)
- Do the Right Thing (1989)
- (Tied for 25th) Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
- (Tied for 25th) The Night of the Hunter (1955)
- Shoah (1985)
- Daisies (1966)
- Taxi Driver (1976)
- Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
- (Tied for 31st) 8 1/2 (1963)
- (Tied for 31st) Mirror (1975)
- (Tied for 31st) Psycho (1960)
- L’Atalante (1934)
- Panther Panchali (1955)
- (Tied for 36th) City Lights (1931)
- (Tied for 36th) M (1931)
- (Tied for 38th) Breathless (1960)
- (Tied for 38th) Some Like It Hot (1959)
- (Tied for 38th) Rear Window (1954)
- (Tied for 41st) Bicycle Thieves (1948)
- (Tied for 41st) Rashomon (1950)
- (Tied for 43rd) Stalker (1979)
- (Tied for 43rd) Killer of Sheep (1978)
- (Tied for 45th) Barry Lyndon (1975)
- (Tied for 45th) The Battle of Algiers (1966)
- (Tied for 45th) North by Northwest (1959)
- (Tied for 48th) Ordet (1955)
- (Tied for 48th) Wanda (1970)
- (Tied for 50th) The 400 Blows (1959)
- (Tied for 50th) The Piano (1993)
- (Tied for 52nd) Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
- (Tied for 52nd) News From Home (1977)
- (Tied for 54th) Contempt (1963)
- (Tied for 54th) Blade Runner (1982)
- (Tied for 54th) Battleship Potemkin (1925)
- (Tied for 54th) The Apartment (1960)
- (Tied for 54th) Sherlock Jr. (1924)
- Sans Soleil (1983)
- (Tied for 60th) La Dolce Vita (1960)
- (Tied for 60th) Moonlight (2016)
- (Tied for 60th) Daughters of the Dust (1991)
- (Tied for 63rd) Goodfellas (1990)
- (Tied for 63rd) The Third Man (1949)
- (Tied for 63rd) Casablanca (1942)
- Touki Bouki (1973)
- (Tied for 67th) Andrei Rublev (1966)
- (Tied for 67th) La Jetée (1962)
- (Tied for 67th) The Red Shoes (1948)
- (Tied for 67th) The Gleaners and I (2000)
- (Tied for 67th) Metropolis (1927)
- (Tied for 72nd) L’Avventura (1960)
- (Tied for 72nd) Journey to Italy (1954)
- (Tied for 72nd) My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
- (Tied for 75th) Spirited Away (2001)
- (Tied for 75th) Imitation of Life (1959)
- (Tied for 75th) Sansho the Bailiff (1954)
- (Tied for 78th) Sunset Boulevard (1950)
- (Tied for 78th) Sátántangó (1994)
- (Tied for 78th) A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
- (Tied for 78th) Modern Times (1936)
- (Tied for 78th) A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
- (Tied for 78th) Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974)
- (Tied for 84th) Blue Velvet (1986)
- (Tied for 84th) The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
- (Tied for 84th) Pierrot le Fou (1965)
- (Tied for 84th) Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1988)
- (Tied for 88th) The Shining (1980)
- (Tied for 88th) Chungking Express (1994)
- (Tied for 90th) Parasite (2019)
- (Tied for 90th) Yi Yi (2000)
- (Tied for 90th) Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)
- (Tied for 90th) The Leopard (1963)
- (Tied for 90th) The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)
- (Tied for 95th) A Man Escaped (1956)
- (Tied for 95th) Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
- (Tied for 95th) Tropical Malady (2004)
- (Tied for 95th) Black Girl (1966)
- (Tied for 95th) The General (1926)
- (Tied for 95th) Get Out (2017)
- 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968)
- Citizen Kane (1941)
- The Godfather (1970)
- (tied for 4th)Tokyo Story (1953)
- (tied for 4th) Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
- (tied for 6th) Vertigo (1958)
- (tied for 6th) 8 1/2 (1963)
- Mirror (1975)
- (tied for 9th) In the Mood for Love (2000)
- (tied for 9th) Close Up (1989)
- (tied for 9th) Persona (1966)
- (tied for 12th) Taxi Driver (1976)
- (tied for 12th) Barry Lyndon (1975)
- (tied for 14th) Beau Travail (1998)
- (tied for 14th) Seven Samurai (1954)
- (tied for 14th) Breathless (1960)
- (tied for 14th) Stalker (1979)
- Apocalypse Now (1979)
- A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
- (tied for 20th) Bicycle Thieves (1948)
- (tied for 20th) Rashomon (1950)
- (tied for 22nd) Mulholland Drive (2001)
- (tied for 22nd) Pather Panchali (1955)
- (tied for 22nd) The Battle of Algiers (1966)
- (tied for 22nd) Raging Bull (1980)
- (tied for 26th) Andrei Rublev (1966)
- (tied for 26th) The Godfather II (1972)
- Goodfellas (1990)
- Do the Right Thing (1989)
- (tied for 30th) Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
- (tied for 30th) The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927)
- (tied for 30th) Ordet (1955)
- Sunrise: Song of Two Humans (1927)
- (tied for 34th) The 400 Blows (1959)
- (tied for 34th) La Dolce Vita (1960)
- (tied for 34th) La Jetee (1962)
- Au Hasard Baltazar (1966)
- (tied for 38th) The Rules of the Game (1939)
- (tied for 38th) L’avventura (1960)
- (tied for 38th) La Strada (1954)
- (tied for 41st) Playtime (1967)
- (tied for 41st) The Night of the Hunter (1955)
- (tied for 41st) A Man Escaped (1956)
- (tied for 41st) Vagabond (1985)
- (tied for 41st) Come and See (1985)
- (tied for 46th) Psycho (1960)
- (tied for 46th) L’Atalante (1934)
- (tied for 46th) City Lights (1931)
- (tied for 46th) Les Mepris (1963)
- (tied for 46th) Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
- (tied for 46th) Don’t Look Now (1973)
- (tied for 46th) Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963)
- (tied for 53rd) Singin’ in the Rain (1951)
- (tied for 53rd) Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)
- (tied for 53rd) The Piano (1992)
- (tied for 53rd) Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1972)
- (tied for 53rd) La Maman et la Putain (1973)
- (tied for 53rd) Fanny and Alexander (1982)
- (tied for 53rd) La Notte (1961)
- (tied for 53rd) Eraserhead (1976)
- (tied for 53rd) Viridiana (1961)
- (tied for 62nd) Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
- (tied for 62nd) Late Spring (1949)
- (tied for 62nd) Some Like It Hot (1959)
- (tied for 62nd) Blade Runner (1982)
- (tied for 62nd) Sunset Boulevard (1950)
- (tied for 62nd) Satantango (1994)
- (tied for 62nd) Tropical Malady (2004)
- (tied for 62nd) Jaws (1975)
- (tied for 62nd) Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
- (tied for 62nd) La Cienaga (2001)
- (tied for 72nd) The Searchers (1956)
- (tied for 72nd) Shoah (1985)
- (tied for 72nd) News From Home (1976)
- (tied for 72nd) Sans Soleil (1982)
- (tied for 72nd) Touki Bouki (1973)
- (tied for 72nd) The Red Shoes (1948)
- (tied for 72nd) A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
- (tied for 72nd) Modern Times (1936)
- (tied for 72nd) Blue Velvet (1986)
- (tied for 72nd) The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
- (tied for 72nd) Wild Strawberries (1957)
- (tied for 72nd) The Ascent (1976)
- (tied for 72nd) The Seventh Seal (1957)
- (tied for 72nd) Chinatown (1974)
- (tied for 72nd) Ikiru (1952)
- (tied for 72nd) Where is the Friend’s House? (1987)
- (tied for 72nd) L’Argent (1983)
- (teid for 72nd) The Conversation (1974)
- (tied for 72nd) Salo: or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
- (tied for 72nd) A Separation (2011)
- (tied for 72nd) Kes (1969)
- (tied for 93rd) Wanda (1970)
- (tied for 93rd) Battleship Potemkin (1925)
- (tied for 93rd) Moonlight (2016)
- (tied for 93rd) Parasite (2019)
- (tied for 93rd) Yi Yi (1999)
- (tied for 93rd) The Conformist (1970)
- (tied for 93rd) The Color of Pomegranates (1968)
- (tied for 93rd) Pickpocket (1959)
- (tied for 93rd) Taste of Cherry (1997)
- (tied for 93rd) Hidden (2004)
- (tied for 93rd) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
- (tied for 93rd) Throne of Blood (1957)
22 thoughts on “Sight and Sound’s 2022 All-Time Greatest Movie List”
Films from the list I haven’t seen
Both Akerman films–
Jeanne Dielmanand News from Home
Journey to Italy
A Matter of Life and Death
Histoire(s) du Cinema
From the directors’ lists: L’Argent and Ascent
I don’t understand why these films are rated so high…
Man with a Movie Camera
Rules of the Game
…and I don’t understand these films, period
Celine and Julie Go Boating
(Not surprising that these are all French films! Also, add any film by Godard, except Breathless.)
Alternate films by the directors, whose films made it on the list
Godfather II (Is the first film really a stand alone? I feel like you need both. The third film is not necessary, however.)
Act of Killing (maybe not a significant omission)
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012) Dir. Don Hertzfeldt
If Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon gets in, I feel like Peter Tscherkassky’s Outerspace (1999) should get in. Same with Park chan Wook’s Night Fishing (2011) or Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: the Iron Man (1989)
The Color of Pomegranates
Mishima: a Life in Four Chapters
Days of Heaven
The White Balloon
The Children of Paradise (When did this film fall out of favor?)
Capra, Tarantino, Spielberg, Cassavetes, Malick, Wiseman, Robert Altman, Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Woody Allen. (My opinion of Malick’s films have diminished somewhat, but to not to have any of his films seems like a significant oversight.)
Non-English speaking directors seem to get short-shrift. To say it another way, there’s bias towards English-speaking directors. I feel like there should be more non-English speaking films on this list.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan…
To what extent has this list been based on a perspective and biases that stem from maleness? If the majority of voters were women, would the list dramatically change? The current list has raised these questions.
The idea that one’s sex/gender would have a significant influence in this process is something I don’t care for. Same with one’s nationality or ethnicity. I recognize that one can’t completely eliminate the influence of these factors, but great works of art should transcend, not be highly dependent upon them.
And yet the current list makes me wonder if a male biases heavily influenced previous lists. Or, are current political factors having a stronger influence on the selection? If so, is that necessarily a bad thing? Generally, this does seem like a bad thing–the list shouldn’t be a political expression.
On the other hand, aspects of a film will resonate or not based on one’s gender. To use a stereotypical example, films about ambitious male characters, taking on a great task, may resonate more than films about raising a family and the challenges involved with this. Additionally, some male voters may have a higher tolerance for sexism. Ultimately, I think the greatness of a film shouldn’t be selected because of these factors, but I’m wondering if they have been.
(I also wonder to what degree these factors influence my aesthetic judgments.)
I don’t think you can disregard the affect of a voter’s sex on the final list. It’s especially important to allow for even representation on the panel (or voting pool, however this was done) since there’s inherent bias in the production of the films — I was going to say for most of film’s history, but it’s probably true even today. Just the fact that the MASSIVE majority of films were written, produced, and directed by men means a slant in the films themselves and differences in the way male and female audiences will receive them.
If a film were supposedly about Hawaii but clearly misrepresented Hawaii’s people or history or culture, however artistically excellent the film was, you would probably respond to it negatively, while someone unaware of the inaccuracies or misinterpretations might respond positively.
Similarly, a film with women characters that somehow doesn’t represent women accurately from a woman’s perspective must be rated differently from how a man would rate it.
That gender/sex influences the making of films and the way moviegoers experience and perceive them is a given, but to what extent would this influence one’s adjudication of great art? That’s what I’m getting at. If an all-male critics’ list dramatically differed from an all-female critics’ list–particularly if the differences seemed to be based on gender–I think that would disappoint me. I don’t think one’s gender/sex should heavily influence this type of judgment. (Picking one’s favorite movie is another matter. There, anything goes.)
It really depends on the type of inaccuracies. The inaccuracies could bug me, and even hinder my enjoyment of the film, but it may not prevent me from thinking the film is a great work of art. Think of films that involve a specific profession. When professionals from those fields watch these movies, I’m sure they detect inaccuracies that the layperson does not. I’m pretty sure that they can enjoy and even consider these films to be really good, in spite of these flaws. On the other hand, it’s possible the flaws are just too egregious, and those professionals can’t enjoy the film.
My example may be flawed in its specificity, but now poll 1000 Hawaii people about the film and compare their ratings to a general population’s ratings. I’m willing to bet you’ll see a statistically significant difference. Shoot, you pointed out to me that some Native Hawaiians didn’t care for the stereotyping of Native Hawaiians in Lilo & Stitch as untidy, and as far as I know that’s not even a stereotype.
With sex (I’m removing the gender aspect of it because I don’t know how to talk about it intelligently), we’re talking about half the population watching films made almost exclusively by men. A simple thing like just the number of women in prominent roles might not affect your or my appreciation of a film because (a) we’re used to seeing films made this way and (b) we might not even notice it. But 1000 women might see the same film as a sausagefest and feel there’s something off about the world in which the film is set. And I’m not even talking about being offended by the way women are represented. I’m just saying their reception of the film may feel a bit off, like what is this weird world in which there’s one interesting female character among twenty interesting male characters.
But we’re talking about film critics, not just the general population. My assumption is that critics would a) care about judging films as works of art, and b) they would be better equipped to evaluate films in an objective (i.e., intersubjective) way.
Right, but if the movie is a great work of art, do you think a) the female critics would necessarily find the flaw or incongruence so significant that they would disqualify the film, and b) male critics would likely not find this flaw(s) significant?
I think it could happen, but I wonder how often. I feel female and male critics are more capable of rising above, so to speak, their sex. But I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. That’s what i’m questioning.
Musings on criteria for a great an all-time great movie
I’m pretty sure I wrote about this topic before on this site, but since I can’t find it, I’m going to discuss this again.
Off the top of my head, here are some of the criteria that would be important to me.
Am I missing anything?
(Note: See David Bordwell’s discussion on the distinction between taste and judgment in the section, “Good, Bad, and Tasty” in this blog post.)
Prioritizing the criteria
When applying the intersubjective criteria above do not carry equal weight. Inevitably, individuals will place greater on some, at least to some degree, over others. For me, I give more weight to the following:
I did want to mention one criterion I didn’t mention initially, and it’s related to being a good representation of a genre. If a film does a good job of capturing the zeitgeist of a particularly time, that seems like a valid criterion to consider, albeit a minor one for me. This might be one of the criteria I would point to when arguing for Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction or maybe Charlie Kaufmann’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
By the way, I think both films would be at least strong contenders for second tier films. Annie Hall and Linklater’s Before Trilogy are others that came to mind.
(Note: Write about criteria that should not be used in the next entry.)
In a recent NYT article, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis discuss the recent S&S list. Here are some of my reactions/comments.
What’s the value of these lists?
They touch on the value of ranked lists, mentioning Chantal Ackerman’s negative feelings towards them, and my sense is that they don’t seem to appreciate the value of these lists.
To me, the value is clear–namely, they are an important tool to help people narrow down their film-watching options. Rendering aesthetic judgments, especially in some definitive way, is not what makes the list valuable to me. While I do think knowing the consensus among critics and filmmakers is interesting and has some value, ultimately, individuals experiencing films and judging films for themselves seems more important. But individual moviegoers need help in choosing the films they decide to see. Some methods and processes for doing this have more value than others. I think these film polls are a solid tool.
On the nature of the poll
Additionally, according to this youtube blogger, the process of creating the final list involves the following:
1. Participants submit an unranked top 10 list.
2. The final list is based on the number of times a film appears in the lists.
This is a highly crude approach in my view (and I’m guessing it’s used for mostly for practical reasons). In my view, availability of the films will skew the results, helping the most popular
I’m curious to know the gender, sex, ethnicity of the new voters. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the lists based on these variables as well.
Dargis’s top 10 (in order)
Scott’s top 10 (chronological order–something “he might have submitted”)
I haven’t seen all these films, but both lists are kind of disappointing, especially Scott’s.
When you’ve seen as many films as they (and you) have, I imagine there’s much more overlap in a top 50 list, but there will — and should — be wide disagreement about a top 10.
As you know, A.O. Scott’s one of my favorite film critics, so I’ll check out that material.
I’m curious to hear why you think this. If the list is primarily a list of favorites, then I would agree with you. But if participants primarily rely on intersubjective criteria, I would think there would be greater overlap closer to the top. Or maybe not?
Of the 100 films, which ones do I think belong on the list?
Of the films listed above, I’m going to pick the films that fit the following categories:
1. First tier–films that belong at the very top; truly great works of art.
2. First tier contenders: I will list films that I’m unsure about–that is, films that are contenders for the first tier. I will also list contenders that didn’t appear on the list. (Note: These films would definitely belong in the second tier.)
2001: a Space Odyssey
Singin’ in the Rain
Sunrise: a Song of Two Humans; L’Atalante; Passion of Joan of Arc; Rashomon; 8 1/2; Bicycle Thieves; Ordet; The Searchers; Psycho; Killer of Sheep; In the Mood for Love; Mulholland Drive; Close-Up;
Contenders not listed:
It’s a Wonderful Life; Double Indemnity; The Earings of Madame de….; Nashville; Jaws; Pink Flamingos; Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Star Wars: a New Hope; Mishima: a Life in Four Chapters; Gummo; Gabbeh; Werckmeister Harmonies; A New World; Yi Yi; Syndromes and a Century; It’s Such a Beautiful Day;
Criteria or approaches that should NOT be used
The factors listed below aren’t inherently bad, but they can deleteriously interfere with the evaluation process. Certainly, for me, these often interfere with my appreciation and understanding of a film.
I should say that when the mismatches have occurred I sometimes feel my assessment is suspect. Ideally, in many of these instances, I would want to reassess the film, preferably after re-watching it.
Here are some other reactions that can interfere with my assessment that are more complex.
Finally, a couple more obvious, less controversial points. One shouldn’t be really tired or distracted when evaluating a film. Ideally, one shouldn’t break up the viewing, but watch it in one sitting.
#28 Daisies (1966)
Dir. Vera Chytilova
After recently re-watching this Czech New Wave film, this ranking seems really high. Having said that, I don’t have a good grasp of the film, although, at this point, I’m a little skeptical that I could arrive at some understanding that would dramatically turn my opinion around.
The film follow two young females that proceed to behave in a spoiled way, because the world is spoiled. I’m not sure if “spoiled” is a good translation, but they mostly trick older men into paying for a lavish meal. There are some performance art interludes and a lot of low tech effects (e.g., use of different color lens; cuts that allow the characters to almost teleport through space, etc.)
#25 (tied critics list)/#41 (tied directors list) The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Dir. Charles Laughton
Director of photography: Stanley Cortez
Starring: Robert Mitchum (Rev. Harry Powell), Lililan Gish (Rachel Cooper) Bill Chapin (John Harper), Sally Jane Bruce (Pearl Harper), Shelley Winters (Willa Harper), etc.
(Currently streaming on Amazon prime. The print quality is quite good. By the way #25 seems a bit high, but I don’t object to the film making the top 100.)
I can’t think of many films that leave me with a rather lukewarm reaction–in spite of some cool looking black and white images–for the first half, but then dramatically change my opinion by the end. This is one of those films. (The first time I saw this, I still felt disappointed at the end, but I think that’s because it thwarted some of the expectations I had going into the film. On this viewing I had less and lower expectations.) I’ll explain the reason for the turnaround, but first a few things about the visuals, and a quick plot descriptions.
I did like the black-and-white cinematography and scenes alluding to German Expressionism. Some of the cinematography actually made me think of graphic novels influenced by wood-block printing and someone like Frank Miller, perhaps. I especially like the more darker images surrounded by silvery outlines, and the river boat journey was one of my favorite moments in the film. (An Example of Frank Miller below. Note:
This next example (from the graphic novel, Flood!) is a different aesthetic from the film, but it’s the type of thing I thought of. Also, more of this approach would have been interesting.
(Laughton reportedly reviewed older silent films and wanted to “restore the power of the slient films.” In the boat journey, I wished it was shot without sound.) Still, none of this alone was sufficient for the film to win me over. After the plot description below, I’ll explain my reasons for this.
Here’s a quick plot description: A psychopathic, “preacher” goes around the countryside killing (and robbing) women, thinking they are a kind of evil, partly because of the lust they evoke in men. At some point, he is captured and sent to prison. While there he learns about hidden money from one of the inmates, who left behind a wife and two children. When the “preacher” seeks out the family to get the money.
I have some other descriptions, but I feel viewers should not know about them prior to the film, giving them to discover these aspects on their own. However, I will talk about them in the next section, for those who don’t care about knowing them before hand.
From wikipedia entry about this film, I learned that Laughton described this as a “Mother Goose nightmare.” That certainly comes through, although I thought of a Grimm fairy tale like Hansel and Gretel. The idea is an interesting one, but as I alluded to earlier, the execution wasn’t quite working for me in the first half.
I think the problem stemmed primarily from the acting–specifically, Winters, the kids, and a little of Mitchum. Maybe this I’m being churlish, but the child acting wasn’t very good in my view, although they had the right look for the parts. (Mitchum certainly had the right look and voice.) With Winters, the problem might have been more with the writing and conception of the character. Specifically, her character seems to buy into Powell’s (the preacher) conception of women, and her earnest desire to be cleansed and redeemed, not only making her seem hysterical, but the acting wasn’t convincing. (Actually, the film has a sexist and even misogynistic depiction of women that is problematic, and I’ll touch on that more later.)
One could argue that the acting wasn’t meant to be realistic–that the cartoonish quality (including Mitchum’s acting) was appropriate for a kind of modern fairy tale–but I don’t find that argument compelling. If the acting gave the film a fairy tale quality that would be a compelling argument, but it didn’t. (By the way, audiences at the time may have found the acting acceptable, so maybe the acting is just dated, particularly since we’ve seen many excellent performances of psychopathic killers since then.)
On a related note, I do think shooting the whole film on a film stage or movie lot, creating a more artificial feel–and also tilting away from realistic looking scenes to more stylized scenes (e.g., German Expressionism)–would have enhanced the film. Indeed, some scenes seem shot on a sound stage, and they feel like some of the most effective moments of the film. Ultimately, if the film felt less realistic, with more obvious artifice and even adding fantastical elements (think of Cocteau’s filmmking in his Beauty and the Beast) it might have been more effective, and maybe the acting would have worked better. (I also like the idea of redoing the film as a graphic novel or motion comic.)
Now, what turned the movie around for me was Lilian Gish’s character and performance. I’m not sure if she received an Oscar nomination or won for her role, but her performance warranted both. She was a breath of fresh air–not just her spunk and compassion, making her likable–but her acting as well. To me it seemed less over-the-top, and she seemed more believable.
What I found interesting, and a bit surprising, is that her character, Rachel Cooper, seems to have a similar sexist view as Powell–she views women as weak and foolish. However, she believes the right response is compassion and assistance, not revulsion and destruction. She essentially represents love, while Powell represents hate–in line with Powell’s story about love and hate. (Ironically, in Powell’s telling, love wins.) Had the film depcited both men and women as weak and foolish I would have liked the film more.
One part of the film I haven’t quite put my finger on: When the police arrest Powell, the scene is similar to the arrest of John and Pearl’s father. John breaks down, and returns the money. As I write this, I realize that perhaps the scenes reminds him not only of his father’s fate, but the reasons for this–namely, the father’s robbery. So John’s emotional outburst and returning the money expresses his sorrow and regret at the damage the stolen money has caused. That is, John doesn’t feel pain for Powell, but the scene makes him think of his father and the reason his father is no longer there.
(Another example of black and white graphic novel art by Jim Steranko.)
Journey to Italy (1953)(tied for #72)
Dir. Roberto Rosselini
Starring: Ingrid Bergman (Katherine Joyce), George Sanders (Alex Joyce),
I’ve seen a few of Rossellini’s films, and I don’t remember much about them, except that the films really didn’t grab me. I liked Journey to Italy a lot more, but I don’t think it’s a strong candidate for an all-time great movie. I’ll explain the reason I feel this well, as well as point out one aspect of the film I liked.
But first a short description. An older English couple (Sanders and Bergman) take a trip to Italy to sell a property as well as take a short vacation. Away from work, they have a lot of time alone together. In a way, the film reminded me a lot of Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, except imagine if Linklater didn’t make the preceding two films.
In the next section, I’ll explain the reasons I didn’t think highly of the film.
Ultimately, the film–or specifically the characters–felt emotionally hollow to me. I didn’t feel like they had any real, substantive feelings for each other, and I think the performances were a big reason for this, although I thought Bergman’s was better than Sanders’s.
I did partly like the structure of the film–specifically, the way the art and artifacts of Italy reflect and comment on the marriage. At times, it’s a bit too on the nose (as in the buried couple near the end), but overall, this was one of the more interesting aspects of the film.
By the way, here’s a good breakdown of the film by Martin Scorsese. It’s helpful, and while I agree with some of his points, I didn’t find it persuasive, for reasons I mentioned above. (Note: It should seen after the film.)
#16 Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
Dir. Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid
14 minutes, 47 seconds
I’ve seen this film before, and I watched it two more times recently. It’s a good film, but I’m uncertain if it deserves the #16 ranking. On the directors’ list the film is tied for #62 with five other films, and that seems more defensible to me. I will say that the limited resources makes the film even more impressive. Imagine making a film at home, mostly with whatever is on hand, and that’s basically what Deren and Hammid did.
I will say this: There have been many filmmakers who have attempted to make a film as if it were dream. This is one of those films and it stands up quite well.
Vertigo (1958) #2 and tied for #6 on the directors’ list
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
This film deserves a separate thread, but I’ll just make brief comments, particularly relating to the list. I never understood the high ranking, even after several viewings. But I also don’t think I fully understood the film. The thing is, I never felt motivated to dig deeper, and I also felt my opinion wouldn’t significantly change if I did understand the film.
After watching the film two more times recently, as well as going back and watching scenes, reading passages of the script–and crucially–reading comments from critics and movie fans–I’ve gained a much greater understanding of the film. However, I don’t think I can say I fully understand the film. Specifically, I couldn’t articulate what is at the heart of the film (although I feel like I’m getting there; although another part of me wonders if this may not be possible). While the analysis I’ve encountered has been helpful, everyone has felt incomplete, fragmentary. None fully captured the film, getting to its heart in my view.
I won’t discuss my current understanding of what this film is about here and now, but I hope to do so later in a thread dedicated to the film. But I will say this: I now understand the film’s very high ranking, especially among critics and directors, and I want to mention to reasons for this.
First, there are many layers to this film–not just in terms of themes and ideas, but the way the film expresses this with the different components of filmmaking (e.g., the music, editing, writing, use of color, etc.) It could be the most layered film of all time.
Second, I do think a big part of the film involves insights and commentary on filmmaking and Hollywood specifically. My sense is that because the voters love cinema, they’re going to respond more strongly and more favorably to movies that are about movies–more so than the average moviegoer.
My sense is that both of these qualities are reasons the film is near the top of the list. It’s similar to Citizen Kane, there is so much to plumb, in terms of the filmmaking. Having said that, CK’s filmmaking impresses me a lot more, and at this point the theme resonates a bit more with me.
But I’m still not satisfied with my understanding of Vertigo, and given how much my understanding and opinion of the film has changed, it wouldn’t surprise me if I eventually think it’s as good if not better than CK.
One last thing I forgot to mention. While I understand the high ranking, at this point, I don’t think I’d rank it as the second best film of all time. I’d probably put it in the top 20 or even the top 10. I do think it’s a first tier film for sure.
Apocalypse Now: Redux (2001)
Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
I originally watched Redux at Waikiki Theater, and while I’ve never seen the original film, I’ve read about the scenes that were added, and I suspect the original might be superior.
I really can’t add much to this viewing–I feel somewhat underwhelmed, as I did when I first saw this. To be fair, I don’t think I have a good grasp of the film. My understanding is that the film is loosely based, or inspired by, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. My understanding of the book was that it was an allegory about human nature–or the evil within human beings. I viewed the film the same way.
But if this approach is appropriate, I feel disappointed by the film–the evil or any insights into human beings seems hollow to me, especially if I compare them to a writer like Dostoevsky.
The famous helicopter attack, accompanied by Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”, didn’t really hold up for me, partly because glamorized depictions of war don’t appeal to me as they used to. I also assume that Colonel Kigore (Duvall) and his enthusiasm for surfing was supposed to be satirical, a la Catch-22. Satirical or not, the scene felt flat and dull to me.
My favorite part of the movie is the opening sequence, with overlapping images of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) in his hotel room and the napalm bombing.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
Dir. Chantal Ackerman
cast: Delphine Seyrig, etc.
I saw this at the Doris Duke Theater yesterday, and I want to jot down a few quick thoughts.
Is this deserving of the #1 slot, or even the top 10? I haven’t fully processed the film yet, but the thought would not have occurred to me to place this in the number 1 slot, or even the top 10 or 20. Perhaps with more time and thought, I might change this opinion.
I do think it was worth watching.
I had a class discussion about this film yesterday. Two of the participants provided an interesting reading of the film. (spoilers) To them, Dielman’s routines represented the level of control she had over her life. However, with the last man, she experiences an orgasm and loses control. This leads to her stabbing the man.
News from Home (1977)
Dir. Chantal Ackerman
More like a documentary. There are two components to the film: footage of NYC (I assume when Ackerman was living there) and voice over of letters from Ackerman’s mother (who was writing from Belgium, I assume). The letters are pretty mundane and somewhat repetitive. The footage of NYC seem lonely, depressing, particularly the footage without people. (70’s NYC was really a dump.) The footage with people also create a lonely, alienating feeling.
I would never have thought this was a contender for all-time great movie. Then again, I’m not sure I have a good grasp of the film at this point.
The Searchers (1956)
Dir. John Ford
Starring: John Wayne, etc.
I noticed that I listed this as a contender for a first tier film. After watching it recently, it would not be a contender for me. I liked this movie when I first saw it. Back then I liked action films a lot more than I do now, and I probably still like John Wayne as a heroic character. I’m guessing, I was more accepting of derogatory and racist depictions of Native Americans as well. Because of this, I didn’t really enjoy the film–at least the parts that were meant to be entertaining.
Still, there’s one thing that makes the film worth seeing, and that’s the Ethan Edwards character. I can’t think of a depiction of an angry, violent racist character–who is also the ostensible hero in the film–at least there are elements of the character that would likely appeal to fans of Westerns–e.g., the lone-wolf gunslinger; the tough guy persona, captured in the lines, “That’ll be the day.” But this mixture of a good and bad makes the character so interesting. To me, there are Americans like Edwards, now and in the past. They are someone’s uncle or father–and they can be appealing people outside of these darker elements. I don’t think we’ve seen this type of character very often, not played by a star like John Wayne.
By the way, I discussed this film with others, and most of them never saw a John Wayne picture–i.e., this was their first Wayne film. I think most haven’t watched a lot of Westerns. All this is unfortunate because the effect of the film would be greater had they watched a lot of Westerns, with John Wayne (or even Wayne’s war movies) prior to this film. For one’s first Western, this is not a good choice.
In any event, most of them didn’t like the film. I don’t blame them. I think if you didn’t grow up watching Westerns, it would be hard to enjoy the film–given some of the dated qualities that could often be offensive. (As an action film, it’s not that great either.)
One last thing. The reason, or the absence of one, Ethan doesn’t kill Debbie bothered me more than it did the first time. I’ve heard some explanations that are somewhat satisfying.
Here’s the first:
To summarize (for those who don’t want to watch it), door frames signal a dividing line between civilization and the wilderness or jungle. At one point, when Ethan is chasing Debbie, Ford shoots the scene from in a cave, pointing the camera outward–a shot similar to the opening and closing scenes with the camera looking out of a door. When Ethan catches Debbie, they’re both in the cave–that is, they’re both in civilization, where there are rules that even Ethan must obey.
In the last scene, everyone enters the house (civilization), but Ethan can’t–because he’s stuck in his ways–ways closer to the laws of the jungle. Or this is what the maker of the video claims. I also think that Ethan can’t enter because of his racism and hatred. In the film, no one is a racist as Ethan–that is clear. Martin, is 1/8 Native American, and he is adopted by a white family and consider part of the family. Laurie Jorgensen wants to marry Martin, and her family has no problem with this. But Ethan refuses to acknowledge Martin as part of the family–prohibiting Martin from calling him uncle. Additionally, Ethan is the only one who views Debbie as tainted, by living with the Comanche. I’d like to think Ethan can enter the house (civilization) because of his intense racism.
Black Girl (1966)
Dir. Ousmane Sembene
I haven’t analyzed this film completely, but just after my initial viewing, I would not think of it as candidate for an all-time great film. It was a bit difficult to watch as well (which is not necessarily a criticism).
Here’s a synopsis: In Senegal, a French married couple hire a young Senegalese woman, Diouana, as a caregiver of their children. The family moves back to France, and they bring the Senegalese woman along, where we see her treating in degrading ways. To give a generous reading to the French couple (mostly the wife), there may be some misunderstanding in the arrangement and expectations may not have been communicated well. The wife expects a servile maid, whereas the Senegalese woman expects to simply watch the children. (This was not entirely unreasonable because in Senegal, the French family had another servant who did the cooking and presumably other tasks.)
Still, even with this more charitable reading, the wife seems unreasonably demanding and impatient. Moreover, the wife does seem to have deep-seated racist views. For example, one of the wife’s guests, at one point, gets up from the dinner table and says he wants to kiss Douana, as he’s never kissed a black person (translated as “negress”). He does so, humiliating Diouana in front of everyone, with no defense from the wife or husband.
Off the top of my head, exposing the racism and mistreatment of Africans by the French seems to be the point of the film. Or perhaps more specifically the current actions at the time (e.g., giving employment to Africans) to make amends for the past wrongs are far from satisfactory and that these past wrongs will continue to haunt the French and maybe Europe more broadly. (This last point can be seen when Diouana’s brother chasing after the husband with the mask.)