Sunday, August 5, 2012

Lists, lists, lists....

Quite a lot of fuss has been made in the film world about Sight & Sound's top 50 films of all time list. Since 1952, Sight and Sound has published a top 10 list once every ten years. They poll hundreds of critics from all over the world, they also have been doing a directors' version of the poll since 1992. The lists give you a pretty revealing and interesting look at how critics' tastes have evolved over time, same goes for the directors lists. Sight and Sound also publishes every director's top 10 list. So you get to see what Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, etc... think are the top 10 films of all-time. It's fun to see because it really gives you a taste of what movies really inspires those directors.

From 1962-2002, the critics poll has always placed Citizen Kane at the top of the S&S list. This time, Vertigo was number one. There has been a lot of talk about the poll, more now because of the abundance of internet blogs that are around now compared to back in 2002. Is Vertigo really that good? Is Citizen Kane's drop warranted? Does it really matter? Why is there only one female director represented in the top 50? Lots of questions have been asked about the poll.

But yes, it does matter. The placings of the films on the list do not matter to me, but this is a poll only done once every ten years. And there's often a good amount of consistency with each poll. I've seen some deriders and some complaints about it, but really, people will complain about everything these days. What matters is that it puts all those films back on the national stage. A film like Tokyo Story or Man with a Movie Camera may otherwise never get exposure if not for lists like that. Could it be more diverse? Who's to say? We always beg for diversity when it comes to anything and quite frankly I'm getting tired of that conversation. It's not that the conversation isn't valid, but no critic is making a top 10 list while purposely and knowingly leaving out a film by a female/black/etc director. I think it's kinda ridiculous to ask a prestigious list such as that to have an equal amount of films made by directors of all races and both genders. It's just not going to happen like that. Unfortunately, the films that have gotten the most international exposure happen to be directed by white men. I'd rather films like Do the Right Thing or Cleo From 5 to 7 get on the list organically.

Anyway, I think it's great that people are talking about Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Tokyo Story, etc... because of the list. For every cynical, sarcastic anonymous internet person who dismisses any list that doesn't coincide with their opinions, there's a genuinely curious person out there who will see those films and discover a whole new cinematic world. These aren't just "films only old white people like," there's a reason why they wind up on the top 10 list. I may not put some of the films on the S&S top 10 on MY top 10, but I still understand and respect the list.

I feel like I didn't really say much or add anything interesting to the conversation so I'll just post S&S's top 10 and leave it at that.

The Critics:
The Critics’ Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time
  • Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
  • Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
  • Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
  • La Règle du jeu (Renoir, 1939)
  • Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
  • The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
  • Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
  • 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
The Directors’ Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time
  • Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
  • Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
  • 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
  • Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
  • Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)
  • The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)
  • Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
  • Mirror (Tarkovsky, 1974)
  • Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948)
I will say this though....

 It's interesting to me that on the critics' list, the newest film was made in 1968. There have been some grumblings about that as well. Should a film made in the 2000s be on that list? or the '90s, '80s, '70s? The Directors' list has plenty of '70s films.

Let's look at previous lists from the critics:


01. Citizen Kane (46 mentions)
02. Vertigo (41 mentions)
03. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (30 mentions)
04. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (23 mentions)
05. Tokyo Story (22 mentions)
06. 2001: A Space Odyssey (21 mentions)
07. Battleship Potemkin (19 mentions)
07. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (19 mentions)
09. (18 mentions)
10. Singin' in the Rain (17 mentions)


01. Citizen Kane (43 mentions)
02. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (32 mentions)
03. Tokyo Story (22 mentions)
04. Vertigo (18 mentions)
05. The Searchers (17 mentions)
06. L'Atalante (15 mentions)
06. The Passion of Joan of Arc (15 mentions)
06. Pather Panchali (15 mentions)
06. Battleship Potemkin (15 mentions)
10. 2001: A Space Odyssey (14 mentions)


01. Citizen Kane (45 mentions)
02. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (31 mentions)
03. Seven Samurai (15 mentions)
04. Singin' in the Rain (15 mentions)
05. (14 mentions)
06. Battleship Potemkin (13 mentions)
07. L'avventura (12 mentions)
07. The Magnificent Ambersons (12 mentions)
07. Vertigo (12 mentions)
10. The General (11 mentions)
10. The Searchers (11 mentions)


01. Citizen Kane (32 mentions)
02. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (28 mentions)
03. Battleship Potemkin (16 mentions)
04. (15 mentions)
05. L'avventura (12 mentions)
05. Persona (12 mentions)
07. The Passion of Joan of Arc (11 mentions)
08. The General (10 mentions)
08. The Magnificent Ambersons (10 mentions)
10. Ugetsu Monogatari (9 mentions)
10. Wild Strawberries (9 mentions)


01. Citizen Kane (22 mentions)
02. L'avventura (20 mentions)
03. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (19 mentions)
04. Greed (17 mentions)
04. Ugetsu Monogatari (17 mentions)
06. Battleship Potemkin (16 mentions)
07. Bicycle Thieves (16 mentions)
07. Ivan the Terrible (16 mentions)
09. La terra trema (14 mentions)
10. L'Atalante (13 mentions)


01. Bicycle Thieves (25 mentions)
02. City Lights (19 mentions)
02. The Gold Rush (19 mentions)
04. Battleship Potemkin (16 mentions)
05. Intolerance (12 mentions)
05. Louisiana Story (12 mentions)
07. Greed (11 mentions)
07. Le Jour se leve (11 mentions)
07. The Passion of Joan of Arc (11 mentions)
10. Brief Encounter (10 mentions)
10. La Règle du jeu (The Rules of the Game) (10 mentions)
10. Le Million (10 mentions)
What's interesting is seeing how newer films stopped entering the list by 1982. The only '70s films to make the critics' list before have been the first two Godfather movies in 2002. But if you notice in 1962, Michelangelo Antoinini's L'avventura shot up to first place roughly a year after it came out.  By 1992, the film was off the list. Bicycle Thieves also seemed to benefit from immediate universal praise at around 1952 when it was voted the greatest film, four years after it came out.

I always wondered about that because I feel that it's hard to judge a new film against nearly 100 years of film history. L'avventura is still considered a classic despite its absence on the S&S list of the last 20 years. If you think about films made in the '90s and the '00s, was there ever film that came out that could be considered the greatest ever as soon as it came out? I'd say no. Films like City of God, Yi-yi, In the Mood for Love took time to build near-universal respect. But I don't think we'll ever see a film come out and jump into one of these top 10 lists just like that. There's just too many films now. I think, back in the day, the unavailability of older films allowed newer films to jump onto the list. But now that almost every classic film (keyword: ALMOST) is on DVD and easily made available to watch for everyone, it's a lot harder for a newer film to make a lasting impression like that.

So much happened in the world of cinema from the 1920s to the 1960s. Although American film was probably at its best in the 1970s, in my opinion, you can't deny just how many great films/classics Hollywood had to offer back in the day. Back when Hollywood cared about making great films. I think the foreign film market has been getting better than ever and it's nice to see when a film from Iran or South Africa or Romania wind up getting praise. I feel like there hasn't been a more interesting or fruitful period for world cinema than now. I don't think we'll ever get another movement like French New Wave, New German Cinema, Italian Neo-Realism, etc... but more great films are being made by more and more diverse groups of countries around the world. I'd say, if there were to ever be a instant classic that winds up being universally praised by all critics and winds up on the next S&S list, I think it'll be coming from places like South Korea, Denmark, Brazil, or maybe Thailand. There's a lot more freedom, it seems, to make great films in countries like that or even typically great foreign film counties like France. Great films are still being made in the US, there's no doubt about that, but there are just so many countries out there no matter how small or how different, that are coming out with some great films.

Overall though, the only value I see in lists are that it gives a lot of great films exposure. That's why I do lists myself. I look at the S&S poll as a celebration of great cinema not some piece of elitist BS. These aren't academy voters just voting for the next flash in the pan. With films like Man with a Movie Camera and Sunrise making the list, I feel that these critics really are being honest with us about their decisions. There's really no reason to think otherwise.

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