The 10 Greatest Films EVER MADEPosted by cinefile
Film nerds of the world unite!
Sight & Sound, the magazine put out by the British Film Institute, released last Wednesday its once-per-decade list of the Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time.
This is the list to end all lists for cinephile types (which, as the blog name suggests, I consider myself to be one of), even though really, deep down, we know lists are silly. But Lord, are they ever fun.
Sight & Sound determines the greatest films ever made by polling critics, academics, distributors and, for a separate list, film directors. Each person polled submits their own personal opinion of the top ten and then the films with the most votes make up the list. Simple.
This might sound like, oh, neat, whatever, to someone not interested in criticism, but for some of us who take this stuff too seriously this is an exciting event. It’s a respected list, put out by a respected institution, but more importantly, because it only comes out once every ten years it holds some weight.
Even though it’s just a fun list, it’s something some of us take a little seriously. It reflects shifts in cultural perspectives, it tracks the way we collectively think about and judge film history, which is also a history of our culture. And it speaks volumes (or at least a pamphlet) about how we interact with cinema.
Okay, enough highfalutin nonsense.
Without further ado, here’s the list, for those who haven’t seen it:
1. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
2. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu Yasujiro, 1953)
4. La Regle du jeu [The Rules of the Game] (Jean Renoir, 1939)
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
7. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
8. Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Dreyer, 1927)
10. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963)
So there it is, the ten greatest films ever made. Or are they…?
I think the first thing somebody who doesn’t know much about film history would say is ‘I haven’t heard of most of these movies.” For sure they would know 2001, and then maybe Citizen Kane, The Searchers and Vertigo. But Man With a Movie Camera? I doubt it.
There’s nothing wrong with the list delving deep into film history, in fact that’s one of the best things about it, but this list, to me, came out shockingly dry and academic. Don’t get me wrong, I love many of the films on this list, but to me the list missed an opportunity to update itself and recognize the importance of some more modern, populist movies.
(Warning: this could turn into a long essay. I’m just realizing that now.)
Here’s just one reason this didn’t happen: In 2002, as a combined entry, The Godfather and The Godfather Pt. II earned a number four spot on the list. This year Sight & Sound decided to no longer allow multiple entries of a series to count as one vote. Therefore people would have to vote for either Godfather or Godfather Pt. II.
Seeing as both are brilliant, that split the vote and The Godfather earned spot 21 on the top 50 list, and Pt. II came in at 31.
This seems a shame to me, not only because I think The Godfather is one of the 10 greatest films of all time, but because it was one of the few modern era movies that had a chance of making the list.
And I use the term “modern era” loosely here. The Godfather came out in 1972, making it 40 years old. The newest film in the top 10 is 2001, which is, despite the name, 44 years old (unbelievably). In the top 50 there are two films from the 21st century (In the Mood for Love, 2000 and Mulholland Dr., 2001) and three films from the 1990s.
Now, I don’t have too much of a problem with this. I like that a film needs to stand the test of time to make the list, that’s important. I would be pissed if Titanic or Lord of the Rings made the list just because they have been so popular recently. And I also like that these classic films that propelled cinema forward and found inspiration in a young medium are still recognized for the masterpieces that they are.
I’m just saying The Godfather should have been on the list basically.
Of course the huge news is Vertigo nabbing the top spot from Citizen Kane, which it has held for the last 50 years. This is a good thing, not necessarily because Vertigo is the better film, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but it’s always healthy to challenge the top dog. It has seemed for years that to even question whether Kane is the greatest film ever made is foolish. This opens up more of a dialogue.
Which do I think is better? Well, my list is further down.
There are three silent films on the list, which is quite something. Some say that’s because The Artist has renewed interest in silent cinema. But that’s a load of crap. Those three films (Sunrise, Man With a Movie Camera, Joan of Arc) have always been heralded by critics and academics and I can’t honestly see anyone go from seeing the sticky sweet The Artist to realizing how great the detailed, devastating but meticulously slow The Passion of Joan of Arc is.
Chaplin maybe, but even though he held the number two and three spots when the list started in 1952 he now only just cracks the expanded top 50 list, with City Lights in a three-way tie for 50. Buster Keaton too has only one film on the list, The General at 34, a shame for some. I love both, but err on the side of Keaton.
And then there’s the films on the list that make me have to admit my cinematic shortcomings. I have never heard of Andrei Tarkovsky, who has three films in the top 50. I had never seen Sunrise until the day the list came out and I went out and rented it (it’s beautiful and touching, but I’m not sure how I felt about the middle section). In total I have seen 33 out of the top 50 (or maybe 34, I can’t remember if I’ve seen Ugetsu monogatari…).
Actually though, that really excites me, because it means I have 17 (or 16) of the greatest movies ever made to catch up on. The nerd inside me is very excited.
Okay, so what would my choices have been, had I been asked. I know you’re all dying to know. Right? Anybody?
I’ve thought a lot about this and have done some re-watching of the classics and this is what I have come up with, noting that I wrote this list before the Sight & Sound poll came out, for the record (order is subject to change by the minute):
1. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
2. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
4. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
5. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
6. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955)
7. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
8. Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970)
9. Star Wars: A New Hope (George Lucas, 1977)
10. George Washington (David Gordon Green, 2000)
And in the tradition of Tarantino, two more:
11. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)
12. Harlan County USA (Barbara Kopple, 1976)
Now, clearly some of these are personal choices, but I think that’s OK. Is George Washington really a better movie than 8 1/2, for instance? Well, I think 8 1/2, which I re-watched a few days ago, is a masterpiece, but I think George Washington is too, and it hit me harder than Fellini’s film, so I’m picking that. Including Star Wars might seem like an obvious populist move, but really has there ever been a film that has made such an impact on so many people’s lives, including my own? I can think of some that come close, but still haven’t had the massive cultural and personal impact of Star Wars.
Five Easy Pieces and All That Heaven Allows may strike some as odd choices, but those I think are unheralded masterpieces. Do I include them to give them more attention? Are they really better than Tokyo Story? Well it’s all a matter of perspective. Tokyo Story is perhaps more finely crafted and subtly brilliant, but I have always found the two films I chose to also be wonderfully personal and rich films. I took more away from them than I did Tokyo Story.
I do have a minor in Film Studies (which is where I saw many of the films on the S&S list), and I understand the choices on the list. They are all amazing films worthy of study and multiple viewings. But I guess something inside me is feeling anti-canonical and slightly more personal for this poll. Perhaps in 2022 I’ll be right on board, but for now these are my choices.
And including Vertigo and Citizen Kane isn’t just to play it safe. I love both of those films dearly and think they deserve the praise they receive.
There’s so many more personal favourite films I would love to include (oh what the hell: Breathless, Days of Heaven, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Sweet Smell of Success, Pickup on South Street, Night of the Hunter, Manhattan, The Apartment, etc.) but for now, at this time, this is my list of what I think are the greatest achievements in film-making.
So we come to the most important question: what do you think are the greatest movies ever made?
For a full list of Sight & Sound’s Top 50, and a link to the director’s list, click here.