In building a list of the best movies of all time, one must acknowledge first that it is a futile endeavor: nobody who has seen fewer than all movies in history has no right to make such a list, and since a huge number – even a majority! – of all films are lost, it’s impossible even from a conceptual point of view to do such a thing right. There’s also the fact that our opinions change, and we all have blind spots and weaknesses, that “best” can only ever be a euphemism for some degree of “favorite”, and so on, and for somebody in the midst of putting together an all-time Top 115, I have to admit that the whole thing is faintly ludicrous.
All that is well and good.
Still, I wanted to be as serious as possible in making this list, but we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Herein, I confess to the most stupid errors I made.
10 Films I Totally Forgot About
This is emphatically not, “10 films that would absolutely have made the list” – it’s ten films that never even crossed my mind when I was assembling the thing, any one of which might have made it on; I’m sure at least a couple would have. These are the ones that piss me off the most (chronological).
Strike (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)
Eisenstein’s first feature is my favorite – the freshest, the most unmediated.
Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin, 1947)
A black comedy decades ahead of its time, with the bravest performance of Chaplin’s career.
Shoot the Piano Player (François Truffaut, 1960)
Truffaut goes Godard in the creation of his most purely entertaining movie.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964)
A heady mixture of religion and Marxism, one of the great political films of all time
The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)
It only redefined color cinematography. It’s not that important.
Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
Yes. I fucking forgot about Chinatown.
Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1976)
A nervy, perfect depiction of the Id on film. I think I was so distraught that Lynch’s Inland Empire didn’t meet my qualifying criteria that I forgot he made other films.
Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
A grueling endurance test even by the standards of the Holocaust documentary, but as close to definitive as any work on that subject could be.
Grave of the Fireflies (Takahata Isao, 1988)
Easily the most heartbreaking animated film I’ve ever seen, a depiction of childhood and war that burns into your brain and never leaves, except that apparently it does.
10 Films I Saw Too Late
Cinephilia is a process, not an end point, and I saw plenty of great films for the first time in 2010; but thanks to my allegiance to some totally arbitrary rules, none of them were eligible. The ones that most nearly drove me to fudging the rules (chronological):
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Walter Ruttmann, 1927)
Urban life as visual tone poem.
Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (F.W. Murnau, 1931)
The great genius’s final work is a groundbreaking early example of expressive location photography.
Dodsworth (William Wyler, 1936)
Hard and very adult treatment of a marriage dissolving; achingly genius character study.
Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, 1959)
A cunning social satire hiding its insights beneath camp. Or maybe it’s the other way ’round. Ecstatic proof that the ’50s weren’t as stodgy as you’ve heard.
Culloden (Peter Watkins, 1964)
Radical “historical documentary” that says as much about modern media (even if it’s not so “modern” anymore) and its relationship to warfare.
Investigation of a Citizen Under Suspicion (Elio Petri, 1970)
Gleefully warped political essay nestled inside a genre experiment that would already count as one of the finest police thrillers ever made.
The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)
Fulci’s masterpiece is the most hallucinatory of all Italian horror pictures – no mean feat – and also a triumph of nightmare imagery.
My Neighbor Totoro (Miyazaki Hayao, 1988)
A child’s eye view of nature and the magic to be found there, it’s among the sweetest and most sincere and least insulting family movies I’ve ever seen.
Léolo (Jean-Claude Lauzon, 1992)
A bleak and cruel and hilariously sick coming-of-age tale with a shockingly sentimental heart.
10 Filmmakers I Am Most Appalled to Have Left Off (alphabetically)
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Josef von Sternberg