2012 will mark the release of the new “greatest films of all time list” from British magazine Sight and Sound. This involves asking many filmmakers and film critics for their picks of the greatest films of all time. And, for whatever reason, they have not asked me for my input. I suppose it was lost in the mail.
OK, obviously, this is a serious list an one that involves collaboration with some of the smartest and most talented people in the world. That leaves little room for individuals like me. But then, I still look forward to the list. The 2002 list (which you can view the critic’s picks here and the directors picks here) stands the ultimate example of a best of list. Of course, it is also interesting to see the films that individuals voted on (a complete list of films that received any votes can be found here and see how some voted for their favorites). But this is about as complete and important of a selection that anyone will find and will stand…until 2022, when they vote again.
To show my excitement, I wanted to make my own list of the films I consider to be the greatest of all time. I will abide by their rules – even though I believe that choosing only ten films is too limiting. But then, everyone they have asked to be involved has the same dilemma. There are numerous films that I love that are not present. I have tried to be fair and pick one or two from each decade (depending on the decade) but I am fully award that some films and filmmakers are excluded. As a spoiler, Martin Scorsese is not on my list, nor is Steven Spielberg. Nor is Alfred Hitchcock, or John Ford, or Robert Altman, nor David Cronenberg. And that’s just the English speaking filmmakers; when you include my favorite non English films, it gets even more complicated. But the fact remains the same; those I have listed have made some of my favorites, but they did not revolutionize the field in the way I feel that these ten films did.
Which brings me to another point. This will not be a list of my FAVORITE films. I have already submitted that list to readers. Besides, a favorite list is different from a “greatest” list. To put it simply, what someone describes as their favorite film says more about the person than the film; it is a reflection of their personality and their views of the world. The “greatest” film would the film that helped to advance the art more than other works, that left an impact on creative people.
Their list is compiled by which got the most votes. I will do my list in chronological order.
Birth of a Nation–Yes, the film is unbearably racist. Yes, because of this, it is practically unwatchable to almost every single decent person. But this is the film that made people aware of what a film could be – and epic that is capable of catching the public’s imagination. Pretty much every ambitious director is still feeling its influence.
Metropolis–The greatest silent film of all time, and one that demonstrated how films could convey, not just reality, but worlds that could never exist. To that end, this may very well be the first film that explored the artistic aspects of the medium.
Modern Times–Making this list and not including a Charlie Chaplin film would be a mistake; he was the first popular film figure and was, for a time, one of the most famous men in the world. This is his best work, one that may be the most effective satire of American life ever crafted.
Citizen Kane–Do I really have to explain this one? OK – it’s the film that defined the modern grammar of film, and forever freed directors and writers to experiment with ways to tell a story. Characters could lie, time did not have to go from point a to point b, and there did not have to be a happy ending. Additionally, like Birth of a Nation, Kane showed that films could have effects beyond the theater screen and seep into the public debate.
Rashomon- When your film’s title enters the dictionary, you have accomplished something remarkable (yes, I know Kurosawa didn’t invent the term or the premise, but he’s the one who popularized it and it is used in reference to his film). Rashomon is also credited with creating an interest in world cinema and demonstrating that there were many non-English speaking directors who could craft films that outweighed their more popular English/American counterparts (a lesson many in America still have not learned).
Breathless-Breathless has long served as a template for low budget filmmakers who have something to say. It’s choppy editing style and subtle storyline have become the standard of many genres, from action films to horror (even though Breathless is neither). It was also the first film that demonstrated how the medium could influence itself by having homages to 40s Warner brothers pictures. Again, most modern filmmakers would rather quote films from their childhoods than from any piece of literature.
2001: A Space Odyssey-The most intelligent film ever made, 2001 is also a film that reminded everyone that ambiguity in film is not a hindrance but a blessing. It also was the first film that demonstrated how special effects could be used, not to create an imaginary film world, but one that looked as real as any photograph.
Star Wars–I have made my feelings about this film very clear: it is responsible for many of the problems with modern Hollywood. But then again, that isn’t necessarily George Lucas’ fault – it is the fault of people thinking they could be him. Star Wars may be the most popular movie ever created, and one that has served as a blue print for nearly every blockbuster film since its release.
Pulp Fiction– Much like Breathless, this film started a revolution that is still being felt today. It’s nonlinear storytelling, retro style and soundtrack, and treatment of violence has been copied in many great films and many lesser films. Discussing its plot and script has become almost besides the point; all that needs to be examined is how the sub genre of “indie film” has dominated any serious film discussion for the past twenty years.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-I named it as the greatest film of the previous decade, and I see no reason why it should not be included in this list. This film’s tone and technique has been copied in virtually every art film for the eight years since its release, and Charlie Kaufman has reintroduced actual artistic technique into screenwriting. It is new, but its effects will be felt for decades – just wait and see.
If I were given a ballot for the Sight and Sound’s 2012 poll to determine the greatest films of all time, I would vote for the following:
01. Otto e mezzo (1963, Fellini)
02. Smultronstället (1957, Bergman)
03. City Lights (1931, Chaplin)
04. Citizen Kane (1941, Welles)
05. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Kubrick)
06. Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Kelly)
07. Tōkyō Monogatari (1953, Ozu)
08. Vertigo (1958, Hitchcock)
09. Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972, Herzog)
10. The General (1926, Keaton)
Other films come to mind…
Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom (2003, Ki-duk)
Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925, Eisenstein)
Dekalog (1989, Kieslowski)
The Godfather (1972, Coppola)
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (1966, Leone)
Intolerance: Love’s Struggle through the Ages (1916, Griffith)
Jeux Interdits (1952, Clement)
Nattvardsgästerna (1963, Bergman)
Oro Plata Mata (1982, Gallaga)
Synecdoche, New York (2008, Kaufman)
Good choices. They do achieve what the list is supposed to achieve…although, to be honest, I have not seen all of the ones you have selected.
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is not even Charlie Kaufman’s best film. “Synecdoche, New York” is custom tailored for every person to create a different experience for everyone who watches it. The film bypasses your mind and hits you emotionally before you discover the layers and layers of complexity, symbolism, and metaphorical imagery. The film itself is an unappreciated revelation that will prove the most truthful and complex film that stands the test of time.