Yesterday came news that British film magazine, Sight and Sound had released it latest poll of the best films of all time. In an age where lists of best ofs are pretty much stock standard, Sight and Sound gets extra attention because it is only done once every 10 years, and it was first done all the way back in 1952, when Bicycle Thieves was number 1. The poll also involves “critics” so it has a eliteness to it that polls like the IMDB top 250 don’t have. Whether this makes it any more “valid” is debateable, but at least you do get some feeling that the people voting at least have seen a lot of films.
Since that first poll, the winner in 1962, 72, 82, 92 and 2002 spot has been held by Citizen Kane. In 2002 it came in first by a mere 5 votes – 46 to Vertigo’s 41. This year, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo took the prize – 191 votes to 157. The count suggests they asked a shirt load more critics than in the past. Did this lead to the change? Perhaps, but it is interesting that in 2002 Citizen Kane won the “Directors’ Poll” (they poll directors separately) with 42 votes, to “The Godfather I and II” with 28 votes. Ozu Yasujiro’s 1953 film, Tokyo Story didn’t even make it in the Director’s Top 10. This year it won, with 48 votes, to 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2nd on 42 votes. Among the directors polled, Citizen Kane came in 3rd.
Now film study is perhaps the closest thing I can claim to have any qualifications in. My English Literature PhD was on Satires of Hollywood, which rather nicely meant I could study film as well as novels. But I must admit I don’t have a critic’s palette when it comes to films. For a start I am a Hollywood film fan. I do enjoy non-English films, but I must admit my sensibilities don’t always go there.
Silent film is also not my favourite. I’m a fan of words.
One thing about the list – it’s old. Only 4 films in the top 50 come from after 1980. The newest film is Mullholland Dr in 2001 and In the Mood for Love in 2000.
So to reveal my gross ignorance of “high film” I’m going to go through the list and give my views:
1. Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock, 1958 (191 votes)
It’s not even my favourite Hitchcock. I’d put Rear Window and North by Northwest ahead of it. Strangers on a Train is also brilliant, Notorious, The 39 Steps and Psycho as well. And while I do see the intelligence in the film, to be honest, if I really wanted to have a fun afternoon I’d put on To Catch a Thief.
2. Citizen Kane Orson Welles, 1941 (157 votes)
Yes it is brilliant. And while there are parts of The Magnificent Ambersons that I enjoy more, the deep focus of Gregg Toland is wonderful to behold. Welles acting is also good, and he and Joseph Cotton work together like old friends. There’s a reason why it is held in such high esteem, and while I think it’s probably good to see is knocked off the perch, I still rate the influence and work in this higher than Vertigo.
3. Tokyo Story Ozu Yasujiro, 1953 (107 votes)
I have never seen it. I hate that I haven’t. I must rectify this.
4. La Règle du jeu Jean Renoir, 1939 (100 votes)
There’s much in this that is a joy to watch. It’s a great “group film” – the type that has a few narratives and big cast working together. It’s not surprising that Robert Altman essentially did an updated version of this with Gosford Park. I do think it’s dated a tad – and the version I have seen had a lot of hiss on the audio track, but it’s certainly one I recommend people seeking out.
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans FW Murnau, 1927 (93 votes)
The best silent film of all time? In 2002 it came 7th, and was tied with Battleship Potemkin. I’d put that film higher. But still, if you don’t think you’d like silent films, this is a good one to watch.
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey Stanley Kubrick, 1968 (90 votes)
It may not be the best film of all time, but it sure as hell is the most pretentious. Geez, I hate this film. The “I probably would like this if I was stoned out of my nut” ratio on this film is higher than on any other in all history. And don’t give me the “you have to see this in the 70 mm” the visuals ain’t going to overcome the dull plot. And you know what? The cut from the bone being thrown in to the sky to the spaceship, isn’t all that deep. (And be honest – that whole start with the apes is really boring.) The worst thing about this is it is the type of film that inspires films like Inception and Prometheus that don’t mean as much as their makers think they do.
7. The Searchers John Ford, 1956 (78 votes)
A great film. And just one of the best ending scenes of all time. It doesn’t forget it is a western and so there is action and fighting, but that old right-wing-stay-at-home-and-fight-the-war-from-the-comfort-of-the-Hollywood-lot, John Wayne gives a great performance. I’d prefer to watch Rio Bravo or Red River, or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but this is the better film. But I don;t think it is the best western of all time.
8. Man with a Movie Camera Dziga Vertov, 1929 (68 votes)
Haven’t seen it. It’s a documentary. I probably should seek it out. I know I probably won’t.
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc Carl Dreyer, 1927 (65 votes)
Another silent one. Another one on the “yeah one day I might watch it” list.
10. 8½ Federico Fellini, 1963 (64 votes)
I have this on DVD and once began watching it and stopped about 30 minutes in. I haven’t gone back. I might have to. Actually I know I will, because I was enjoying it. But it;s another long one, and I have to find the time to watch it without having to have my girls interrupting me etc.
11. Battleship Potemkin Sergei Eisenstein, 1925 (63 votes)
I haven’t seen this for year, but my memory when seeing it was thinking it had to be over rated. It isn’t. It might be Socialist propaganda but it’s also art at its best. The Odessa steps sequence is great.
12. L’Atalante Jean Vigo, 1934 (58 votes)
13. Breathless Jean-Luc Godard, 1960 (57 votes)
One of my favourite “non-English language” films. So hip and cool it makes Clooney and Pitt look like a couple of bogans going gown to the Westfield for a shop. So much to love. The quick cuts that were done by Godard just to cut the film down in length, which changed film making as we know it. A wonderful ending, but most of all Jean Seberg, with her short haircut and her New York Herald Tribune t-shirt looking as chicly European as anyone possibly could strolling around Paris in 1960.
14. Apocalypse Now Francis Ford Coppola, 1979 (53 votes)
Pure madness. Gotta say the Redux version is better. But what a glorious mess is this film. Not Coppola’s best in my opinion, but there are so many scenes in this that could each serve as a master class in film making. Does it matter that Brando was a incoherent and inaudible blimp? Nope. Great if only for the opening scene of Martin Sheen in his hotel room drunk and nude and punching the mirror. A scene that let you know this war film ain’t going to be like Patton or The Longest Day.
15. Late Spring Ozu Yasujiro, 1949 (50 votes)
As with Tokyo Story, no idea.
16. Au hasard Balthazar Robert Bresson, 1966 (49 votes)
Again, no idea.
17= Seven Samurai Kurosawa Akira, 1954 (48 votes)
It is long. But it is worth watching. Really good. Influenced Sergio Leone so much he flogged Kurosawa’s Yojimbo to make A Fistful of Dollars. But while this has greatness to it, I think Leone ended up surpassing it.
17= Persona Ingmar Bergman, 1966 (48 votes)
19. Mirror Andrei Tarkovsky, 1974 (47 votes)
Haven’t scene either- my lack of Ingmar Bergman knowledge is a bit of a shame of mine to be honest. So too my lack of Tarkovsky.
20. Singin’ in the Rain Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1951 (46 votes)
This came 10th in 2002. I love it, would probably have it in my top 10. The best Hollywood musical of all-time. Great singing, but even better dancing, and also a wonderful satire of the period in Hollywood when sound was introduced. One of the few musical comedies that is actually very funny.
21= L’avventura Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960 (43 votes)
Look I want to watch this. I will get it one day. It sounds great. Incidentally back in 1962 this film came second, 10 years later it was 5th, then in 1982, 7th. By 1992 it was gone from the top 10.
21= Le Mépris Jean-Luc Godard, 1963 (43 votes)
21= The Godfather Francis Ford Coppola, 1972 (43 votes)
Back in 2002 for some reason Sight and Sound combined this and The Godfather Part II. As a result the two films came in 4th. This time round if both their votes were combined they would come in 8th. This gets my vote as the best movie of all time (though not my ‘favourite’) Everything is great – the score, the acting – especially as so many in the cast would go on to have great careers. I’ve seen it many times, can quote masses of dialogue. It’s a as good as Hollywood can do.
24= Ordet Carl Dreyer, 1955 (42 votes)
24= In the Mood for Love Wong Kar-Wai, 2000 (42 votes)
This one annoys me. I have been looking for it in shops for ages (yeah I know, download it blah blah…) It was on Foxtel a while ago, I taped it, and then accidentally deleted it. Grrr. Will get around to watching it.
26= Rashomon Kurosawa Akira, 1950 (41 votes)
Haven’t seen it for ages, but loved it. It is also responsible for one of my favourite lines in The Simpsons:
All films that try to make you question whether you can believe what you saw take their lead from this. A great meditation on the meaning of truth.
26= Andrei Rublev Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966 (41 votes)
28. Mulholland Dr. David Lynch, 2001 (40 votes)
Great film. Love it; studied it; wrote about it. Such great acting – especially by Naomi Watts. I think she deserved the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in this as Diane. I love that it doesn’t tell you its meaning like other “ooh was that all a dream” films like Vanilla Sky.
29= Stalker Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979 (39 votes)
29= Shoah Claude Lanzmann, 1985 (39 votes)
Would love to see Shoah. But 500+ minutes? Geez.
31= The Godfather Part II Francis Ford Coppola, 1974 (38 votes)
Love it mostly for the flashback scene involving the young De Niro playing the young Vito Corleone. I think the first is better, but again, there;s just so many great scenes in this, and at its heart pure blackness. Chilling.
31= Taxi Driver Martin Scorsese, 1976 (38 votes)
Heresy I know, but I’ve never really liked this all that much. I might have to give it another go, but I’d prefer watching Goodfellas any day of the week.
33. Bicycle Thieves Vittoria De Sica, 1948 (37 votes)
You feeling happy? Got a smile on your face? Think life is good. OK, watch this film and see those feelings dissipate. Such a sad film. Such an honest film. Heart breaking “neo-realism”. Life shown without rose coloured glasses. In The Player, a screenwriter jokes to the Hollywood exec, Griffin Mill that Mill would probably remake it with a happy ending. Made with non-professional actors, it is probably the anti-Hollywood film.
34. The General Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman, 1926 (35 votes)
Interestingly Keaton now ranks above Chaplin. Back in 1952, Chaplin tied for second with both City Lights and The Gold Rush. By 1972 Chaplin was gone and The General came in 8th.
35= Metropolis Fritz Lang, 1927 (34 votes)
Haven’t seen it for ages. It didn’t really do much for me.
35= Psycho Alfred Hitchcock, 1960 (34 votes)
Probably not as scary now as it once was (including for me given I first saw it when I was about 12). The ending is awful, but everything beforehand is perfect. Of note, Hitchcock originally wanted to have no sound at all during the shower scene, then Bernard Herrmann came up with the violin screech and movie history was made. Take that auteur theorists…
35= Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles Chantal Akerman, 1975 (34 votes)
35= Sátántangó Béla Tarr, 1994 (34 votes)
39= The 400 Blows François Truffaut, 1959 (33 votes)
Really good. I’m surprised this isn’t higher to be honest. If I’m honest, it does drag on a bit. But it is perhaps the best study of adolescence on film. The cinemagraphic Catcher in the Rye.
39= La dolce vita Federico Fellini, 1960 (33 votes)
You know what? It’s long. And dated.
41. Journey to Italy Roberto Rossellini, 1954 (32 votes)
42= Pather Panchali Satyajit Ray, 1955 (31 votes)
I really should see some Satyajit Ray.
42= Some Like It Hot Billy Wilder, 1959 (31 votes)
My second favourite film of all-time. I’m not even what my favourite film of all-time is, but this is a lock for second.
42= Gertrud Carl Dreyer, 1964 (31 votes)
42= Pierrot le fou Jean-Luc Godard, 1965 (31 votes)
42= Play Time Jacques Tati, 1967 (31 votes)
42= Close-Up Abbas Kiarostami, 1990 (31 votes)
Nope, nope, nope, nope.
48= The Battle of Algiers Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966 (30 votes)
How come I haven’t seen this? Probably because it’s not on sale in JB HiFi. Yes, I know, I know…
48= Histoire(s) du cinéma Jean-Luc Godard, 1998 (30 votes)
50= City Lights Charlie Chaplin, 1931 (29 votes)
I’ve seen a few Chaplin – The Great Dictator, The Gold Rush, Modern Times. But oddly not this – his most regarded.
50= Ugetsu monogatari Mizoguchi Kenji, 1953 (29 votes)
50= La Jetée Chris Marker, 1962 (29 votes)
No and no.
So the ones I think should be there? Once Upon a Time in the West gets my vote as best ever western, and says as much about America as does The Searchers. Goodfellas and City of God are two great films about crime. There’s lots of French films, but no Jules et Jim? Back in the first poll David Lean’s Brief Encounter came 10th, it deserves to still be in the top 50, as does The Third Man. And no Woody Allen? Where’s Manhattan or Annie Hall? And if we’re talking romantic comedies, I’d also give a vote for The Apartment. Of more recent films, yes Pulp Fiction… but to be honest, I prefer watching Michael Mann’s Heat.