Why did I snub SIGHT & SOUND’s Poll of the World’s Most Renowned Film Critics and Directors?
Because I hate these sorts of things. I loathe them. When I was working on my book and the publishers demanded that I include 3 top ten lists, I bitched and moaned for months. I don’t like them. I wrote my lists with the most temporary of flippant whims. Throwing in BARBARELLA and DAWN OF THE DEAD, to thumb my nose at such lists. Not because I don’t love those films, I do and they have every right to be anywhere on anyone’s lists, but personally… WHY CHOOSE TEN?
Why give star ratings and thumb positions? Why give top ten lists at the end of the year? Why not just list the significant films of the year?
As a film lover and cineaste I have a personal film collection that approaches and might currently pass 7000 titles. That’s my list. Those are the films I choose to live with. As I look over the lists made by critics and directors, I realize that nearly all the films listed are in my collection, but more than that, I notice the films not on the lists.
The movies that make us love watching movies. This year, Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin left the lists. Too silly I suppose. Westerns have left the world of the elite. Musicals are nearly all, but gone. The heavy stuff is all there. The weighty significant films, the ones that advanced the art form, that pushed the form of film forward. Contributed depth of field, overlapping sound design, the French New Wave, Italian Neo-Realists. Ahh, the heady stuff. The works that when taught in film school breed pretension and self-importance. The ‘significant’ films. The Jack Handey DEEP THOUGHT flicks.
Also, the silents are being forgotten now. BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN over METROPOLIS or WIND or GREED or NAPOLEON or PANDORA’S BOX or THIEF OF BAGDAD or THE UNKNOWN or NOSFERATU… not in my book. POTEMKIN isn’t even the best Sergei Eisenstein flick in my book, that’s ALEXANDER NEVSKY, of course I’d love to see the Eisenstein films he shot in Mexico in the forties, but unfortunately… I can’t seem to find those anywhere. Que Lastima!
I find it astonishing that they remember Renoir’s THE RULES OF THE GAME now, but when they were writing their reviews of Altman’s GOSFORD PARK, they couldn’t remember it. And I have to ask this… Which film has affected cinema more, Murnau’s SUNRISE or NOSFERATU? I’m not knocking SUNRISE, its in my collection, but the mere process of listing these things and giving it such authority devalues the others.
We are in the age of computers, where you can print as long a list as you can conceive. You don’t have to completely snub the last 22 years of film because it can’t squeeze into the precious list of ten.
I don’t want to know Roger Ebert or Richard Corliss or Cameron Crowe of John Waters or Quentin Tarantino or Bernardo Bertolucci or Michel Ciment or Milos Forman’s top ten lists. I want to hear what films they own. What movies did they add to their collections at home in the last 10 years? If you had Steven Spielberg’s Film Library… what would be in it? What is in Takashi Miike’s Film library? How about Spike Jonze?
These are the lists that really make the difference, the lists that we really learn from. When you ask for 10 films you’re going to get a couple of different types of lists.
You’re going to get one list that is made up of the films that the person making the list makes you want to think they think are the greatest films of all time, because they are the films of the highest regard and as a critic and a director it is their job to guard their station atop the great bastion of films for all time. These are the films they are all frustrated that the world does not hold in wide esteem. That pop-culture didn’t pop to. Now there is a chance that the films these people listed on their list, well… there’s a chance they haven’t seen some of the titles in the past 20 years… if that recent. They are films that they were taught to respect, came to respect and will teach to respect. Because these are the respected films of all time. They are… IMPORTANT (all caps and twice on Sunday!)
You’re also going to get lists by wild cards. Folks that hate the ideas of these lists and are going to fight and struggle for anarchy on such lists. To mention films for the sake of calling attention to them because they hate the titles that usually appear on these lists. Both John Waters and Quentin Tarantino did a wonderful job of this. This was going to be my tact as well. I was going to select my favorite film of 10 different Genres and Sub-Genres of film. Then I thought… Why contribute to the circus?
If I want you to discover Capra’s THE LOST HORIZON or Damiano’s DEEP THROAT or Selick’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS or Witney’s THE GOLDEN STALLION or Bacon’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE or Lang’s SPIES or Mankiewicz’ THE FIVE FINGERS or Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN or Bava’s DANGER DIABOLIK or Clouse’s ENTER THE DRAGON or Sturges’ UNFAITHFULLY YOURS or Friedkin’s SORCEROR or Corman’s ROCK ALL NIGHT or Truffaut’s THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN or Kuroda’s KOZURE OKAMI: JIGOKU E IKUZO! DAIGORO or Peckinpah’s CONVOY or Iglesia’s EL DIA DEL DIABLO or whatever film I have sitting around this house of mine, then I’ll reference it, talk about it, let you see it. Hell, every now and again I post the incomplete inventory online for folks to ponder at.
The key thing for you, when looking at these lists is this. If you have never heard of the films mentioned, find an alternative video store (if possible) and watch them. Don’t just randomly call these guys prigs and snobs… Watch the films, then you’ve earned the right to call them prigs and snobs, if that’s how you feel.
I’ve always been fascinated with folks that want their opinion AVERAGED in. I suppose it is a habit of Democracy. To have a vote on things. I don’t vote with a pollster though on films, I vote with my library, my collection, my choices.
The fact is, we are not on an endless voyage through the universe on a ship that could only spare data space for 10 movies. The great thing about technology is we don’t have to pick just 10, we can try to get them all. Whether by recording off of television, or supporting alternative Video stores like SCARECROW or DAVE’S VIDEO or PEDAZO CHUNK or VULCAN VIDEO. We have the chance to affect change in our fellow film fans by sitting them down and making them watch the missing pieces. By infecting others with the mania, the love and the passion for film.
There are more than ten great films of all time. More than ten great directors. I mean, I’m sure in choosing 10 great directors, they didn’t think that the most perfect director was Charles Laughton… He made one film. It is a classic, a work of genius and has stood the test of time. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. The film has affected filmmakers like Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese, Guillermo Del Toro and Steven Spielberg, who have in turn affected others.
I can’t stand these list things. I don’t like them, not because they don’t mirror my list, but because they exclude so much. When I received the request from SIGHT & SOUND I responded with a question… Are these to be the best films, the most significant films or my favorite films. I was told My Favorite.
With very few exceptions, I doubt sincerely people were listing their favorite ten films. The final lists read with the pretension of choosing the BEST and Greatest Significance and not Favorites.
For example: CITIZEN KANE is considered by many to be the best most perfect film ever made. However, when you talk to many cineastes, they choose Welles’ TOUCH OF EVIL as their favorite, and if you go further and ask what their favorite movie that Welles was associated with was, they’ll say THE THIRD MAN. And if you ask what the most important film he created was… well that’s CITIZEN KANE.
Now if you take the absurd grouping of the first two GODFATHERS (note they didn’t throw the third one in there…. SHOCK!), THE GODFATHER (and the sequel… singular) are generally considered Coppola’s BEST movies. If you think about the most important film that Coppola made was… I’d say that would have to be APOCALYPSE NOW, but that isn’t even the most important Vietnam film… Which depending on your opinion of Vietnam, could be anything from THE GREEN BERETS to COMING HOME to THE DEER HUNTER to PLATOON to FULL METAL JACKET to THE KILLING FIELDS to BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY to… well… you get the idea.
These things are so subjective. For me, I suppose the most productive thing about printing a collection of top ten this and that’s of film is the discussion and the arguments that follow. Personally, that is a good thing. It spurs conversation. Fosters serious contemplation of a beloved art form and hopefully educates a few about some directors and titles they perhaps would only hear about in a Film History class. These are not the titles you’ll see in BLOCKBUSTER necessarily. They are also not the films you’d program a 24 hour film festival with… heh… hmmmm… perhaps that’s the best way to prove my point. Naaaah, I wouldn’t do that to the BNATers would I?