So, as you very probably know – this is but a little station of the film blogosphere, after all – Sight & Sound published its seventh decennial list of the Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time the other day. Thereby ruining the plan I had to do a fun “let’s predict the S&S list!” post about halfway through this month, since I would swear up and down that the 2002 list came out in September. But no matter.
This is The List. If there is a dyed-in-the-wool Canon Of Agreed-Upon Masterpieces, it’s these ten films and the forty that follow (the rest of the runners-up will be disclosed later this month, in the form of the voters’ ballots), at least until 2022. This means, not that it is by any means perfect, but that it is terrifically useful; it is the ultimate “Start with these” list for new cinephiles, and the definitive conversation starter for the rest of us.
1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
4. The Rules of the Game (Renoir, 1939)
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau, 1927)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
7. The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1928)
10. 8½ (Fellini, 1963)
Here, then, is my opening contribution to that conversation (I’d have been here sooner, but I’m in the middle of the crappiest stretch of internet non-access that I’ve had in months):
It is, for a start, next to impossible for me to take too much issue with the content of the list – my own Best of All Time list, a year and a half old now, but I still stand behind it as far as the Top 10 is concerned, and you’ll note that five of my films made the list, three of my top 5 making the S&S top 5 (and beyond that, 35 for the S&S top 50 – actually 52 – made my top 115). What this tells us, first, is that I have spectacularly dull taste – respectable, but dull. Look for a sudden spike in giallo reviews to combat this horrible lurch towards consensus on my part.
Setting that aside, what of the list itself? Bearing in mind that this is a) a consensus list, and b) the consensus list, it’s damn solid, and the additions are all welcome – the silent film content has jumped from 1/11 in 2002 (two films taking one Godfather slot) to 3/10, which is all by itself what the list needed to do to win the approval of an inveterate silent lover like myself (the 2012 list skews older than the 2002 list, and still doesn’t quite match my own), and Man with a Movie Camera, the only S&S virgin in the bunch, is an extraordinarily welcome addition: one of the all-time classics of non-narrative cinema, and on the logic that the best excuse for this whole exercise is to give a checklist for cinephiles-in-training, an early exposure to Dziga Vertov’s montage masterpiece is an absolute good, any way you want to slice it.
The rest of the top 52 is good as well (I should admit that I have not seen four of the films), though the bigger the list, the harder it is to get a handle on it: I agree with the consensus that Jean-Luc Godard is overrepresented with four films on a list where Ford, Welles, and Bergman have to do with one film each, and Kurosawa and Hitchcock have to make do with two each (and still, somehow, there’s not room for Band of Outsiders); three Coppola films – none of them The Conversation – is dumbfounding; and it’s hard to say if it’s more galling that only one Scorsese film hit the list, or if that one is Taxi Driver. But we have Tarkovsky’s Mirror, Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman – the only film by a female director, shamefully – and two of the best choices from the 21st Century for early canonisation, In the Mood for Love and Mulholland Dr. (I look forward to the full results, to see just how close Yi yi managed to come).
There is also a companion list, the Top 10 as chosen by film directors:
1. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
2= 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
2= Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
4. 8½ (Fellini, 1963)
5. Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976)
6. Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)
7= The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)
7= Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
9. Mirror Tarkovsky, 1975)
10. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948)
There is sublimity here: Tarkovsky, where the critics couldn’t find room. There is also annoyance: my cool feelings towards Bicycle Thieves are known, and I’ve been happy to see it creep down the critics’ list over the year. And there’s that odd cluster of ’70s movies right in the middle, looking more like a sudden intrusion of a 19-year-old boy in film school than the rest of the list (consensus can do odd things sometimes). Plus, we now know what’s really galling: that the directors actually swapped Taxi Driver in for the significantly better Raging Bull, which was on both previous iterations of this list in 1992 and 2002.
The biggest story on either list, of course, is the removal of Citizen Kane from the #1 slot for the first time since it set up shop there in 1962 – and with all due respect to a great movie that represents the single best stop to see everything that goes into filmmaking burning on all cylinders, I see this as unambiguously for the good. No movie should have to deal with the stress of being The Best Ever Made, not even Kane; and I think that such a significant move (which hardly counts as a repudiation of the film, for it after all remains at #2 Of All Time) is a way of proving that movie opinions are firstly, just that – opinions – and not to be regarded as set in stone for all time, irrevocable and beyond adjustment. It saves Kane from being a monolith, that you either Have To Love or Have To Fight Against Iconoclastically, and that can only help the film to be simply watched and enjoyed – for it is a terrifically enjoyable film, along with The Rules of the Game, one of the two most fun movies in the top 10. And if getting knocked down a perch makes that easier to see, then I’m all for it.
Anyway, that was, like I said, my first stab at the conversation. Have at it in the comments!