Listing slightly

“Oh no… can you imagine how sarcastic that coroner’s going to be THIS time?”

I try to avoid writing lists, mainly. I used to make to-do lists, but it seemed to be a way of putting off doing things. And I used to make lists of favourite films, which is perhaps an OK way to start thinking about films, but runs out of value pretty quickly.

But for some reason I bought Sight & Sound specially for the Critics’ and directors’ poll this month. Actually, more the directors’. A good list there works as a sort of map of the filmmakers’ head. Just agreeing or disagreeing with the choices isn’t enough, I want to learn something about the person. That’s why my favourite last time was Bryan Forbes, because he included his own movie, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND. Tells you a lot about him.

Forbes wasn’t asked back, but my favourite lists were those Guillermo Del Toro (FRANKENSTEIN, FREAKS, LA BELLE ET LA BETE), Mike Hodges (all thrillers, all on the verge of noir but not quite typical), Richard Lester (visual comedies and period movies), Edgar Wright (from DUCK SOUP to THE WILD BUNCH) and especially Terence Davies (lots of cineastes listed SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, and one doesn’t doubt their sincerity, but with him it really means something). Also Bong Joon-Ho (CURE and TOUCH OF EVIL and ZODIAC) and Abel Ferrara (A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, THE DEVILS).

I also like the mysteries: Charles Burnett is the only filmmaker to list Henrik Galeen’s THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE and doesn’t amplify; does Rolf de Heer really like FEARLESS that much or did he feel the need to list a film from an Australian (the film is good, but is it that good?); Andrew Dominik’s list is all-English language and all post-1950 — his choices are all great, but doesn’t he feel any embarrassment?

Atom Egoyan claims to have listed ten films that have had “the most dramatic impact on the artform,” as if his personal feelings didn’t come into it.

I find myself in favour of goofy lists. I don’t want the overall top ten to change that much, but it gets boring to see the same names again and again. In the critics’ poll, Ian Christie lists RW Paul’s THE “?” MOTORIST, Geoff Dyer has WHERE EAGLES DARE, and they’re obviously quite sincere, and the Ferroni Brigade has PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (“We don’t believe these are the ten best films of all time, but we are convinced it would be better if they were,” begging the question, WHAT would be better?). One of Alexander Horvath’s choices, NOISES (anon, 1929) cannot be located using Google or the IMDb (“While it should be pretty obvious that these are the ten greatest films of all time, I still wonder if anyone will agree”). On the other hand, Slavoj Zizek, as always, tries a bit too hard to be interesting.

Creating an alternate list to the top ten ought to be fairly easy — just sub in an alternative choice from the same director or era or country or movement or genre. But in fact, the list is pleasingly stuffed with sui generis oddities — no other Dreyer film really compares to JOAN OF ARC (some may be better, but none are like it), CITIZEN KANE stands unique in Welles’ oeuvre even if one prefers CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, VERTIGO is a uniquely strange Hitchcock, LA REGLE DU JEU a uniquely strange Renoir, and Vertov offers only one obvious candidate. Ozu, Ford and Fellini made enough masterpieces for credible substitutions, though 8 1/2 still seems summative.

I know my favourite film: HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (ten years ago, Mark Cousins listed this: now, I don’t think anyone has). And then PLAYTIME and 2001 are the most amazing films I know. Beyond that, I’d surely have to have Powell, Welles, Sturges, Kurosawa, Keaton, Hitchcock, Russell, Lang, Fellini… oops, that’s eleven already. This is a silly game, I’m not playing.

39 Responses to “Listing slightly”

  1. My main peeve with the Sight and Sound list this time is that the media and publicity are acting as if the director’s list doesn’t matter or count at all. The fact that Tokyo Story is Number 1 on the director’s list doesn’t stop people from pretending that Vertigo is like an unanimous new replacement of Citizen Kane. The main thing about Sight and Sound this time is widening the tastes or whatnot, so them saying there are two number 1s this time would have been a welcome relief for that.

    But I read online and hardly anyone even mentions the director’s list, leave alone the Japanese film not directed by Kurosawa that topped the list, even if it could drive a lot more people to see Ozu than say, Vertigo, a film hardly lacking in exposure. As for Citizen Kane getting displaced, it was voted number 1 for five consecutive decades, that’s nigh-unrepeatable.

    I got to say that I did expect ”PlayTime” to climb up the ladder this time, maybe even the top ten, since it’s clear that it’s one of the most ambitious and most prescient visions of film history, certainly moreso than 2001(which is great). It would have been amazing for PlayTime to head this list, it’s totally worthy of being the best film ever made.

  2. What would be nice about Playtime topping the list is that it really has hardly any antecedents: it’s like the road not chosen by film history. Roy Andersson and Elia Suleiman have maybe drawn from it, but otherwise it’s as unique as The Passion of Joan of Arc. Whereas something like 8 1/2 has been copied a lot, usually badly, and Citizen Kane influenced everyone.

    But that#s what’s nice about Vertigo: it’s not like anything else in Hitchcock, or Hollywood, or cinema, and the many imitations don’t remotely touch its strange essence.

  3. PlayTime was very influential on Edward Yang and Robert Altman as well. It’s a film about the future, and the world not having caught up to the possibilities it opens up, is as they say, the world’s problem not Tati’s.

    Citizen Kane’s influence was mostly it’s style and its cinematography. I liked the fact that Farran Smith Nehme(the Siren) mentioned that now that Citizen Kane is no longer number 1, it can go back to being enjoyed and looked at as a work of art, rather than the parlour game of whether is it or is it not the greatest.

  4. The problem is Canonical Power. I quite like Tokyo Story, but it’s not as good as I Was Born But. . . or Record of a Tenement Gentleman. Try getting anyone who isn’t an Ozu adept to see anything other than Tokyo Story. It’s like pulling teeth!

    The greatest film ever made is obviously Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train

  5. That’s certainly true. I love Tokyo Story as well but the Ozu films that had a bigger personal impact on me was Late Spring, I was born but…, The Only Son, Tokyo Twilight(a really dark film), A Hen in the Wind and this really enigmatic film I saw recently There Was a Father. Strangest and most beautiful father-son film ever made.

  6. Yes, there’s something strange and depressing about how the list shrinks Ozu down to one film. It wouldn’t be my first choice for him either. In fact, he’s the kind of filmmaker who qualifies for greatness partly because of the consistency and uniqueness of his whole body of work, so picking one film is always going to be beside the point.

  7. The same is true of Renoir as well, for most he was just La Grande illusion and La réglé du jeu. Thankfully, Criterion has put a host of his treasures(and Ozu’s as well) to give us options. Nowadays, ”The River” is probably an equally strong candidate for his best film. Likewise, ”The Searchers” remains Ford’s One Film as far as the list goes.

    My favorite list is Bela Tarr’s, simply because it was such a surprise.

  8. Isn’t that because a lot of people have seen Tokyo Story and found it a crashing bore? Sorry to sound like a heretic, but for many people Ozu sums up a ‘paint drying on a wall’ school of cinema they can gladly live without.

    The list that really surprised me was that of Slavoj Zizek, who actually had the nerve to include Opfergang – an epically deranged Agfacolor melodrama from Nazi Germany, directed by the infamous Veit Harlan. Its look and tone are eerily close to the Douglas Sirk movies of the 50s.

    For what it’s worth, here’s my own list:

    The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983)
    Death in Venice (Luchino Visconti, 1971)
    Black Narcissus (Powell & Pressburger, 1946)
    Eva (Joseph Losey, 1962)
    Corridor of Mirrors (Terence Young, 1948)
    ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, 1971)
    Amok (Antonio Momplet, 1944)
    Raphael, or The Libertine (Michel Deville, 1971)
    The Virgin of Lust (Arturo Ripstein, 2002)
    Beyond Good and Evil (Liliana Cavani, 1977)

  9. There Was a Father was the film Ozu made during the war. The authorities would of course have preferred he make yet anohter version of the ceaslessly made and remade patriotic shit-kicker The Loyal 47 Ronin. Can you imagine an Ozu version of that? Mizoguchi stepped in instead, and Ozu was left to make one of his sweetest films.

  10. Well Mizoguchi’s 47 ronin is supposed to be a masterpiece. I haven’t seen it, though I have it lying around somewhere. In any case, Ozu is the last film-maker to stir up the audience as anyone who’s seen his 30s films can attest. Actually Mizoguchi is as well. Mikio Naruse made a charming film, Hideko the Bus Conductress, Hideko Takamine’s first film, which is actually critical of wartime Japan.

    Anyway, since it is inevitable, here’s my carefully thought out Top Ten:

    Company Limited(Satyajit Ray)
    The King of Comedy(Martin Scorsese)
    Beyond the Forest (King Vidor)
    Bells Are Ringing (Vincente Minnelli)
    Le Rayon vert (Eric Rohmer)
    French Cancan(Jean Renoir)
    Monsieur Verdoux (Chaplin)
    A Matter of Life and Death (Powell-Pressburger)
    The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Luis Bunuel)
    F For Fake (Orson Welles)

  11. To put down what I think of The Holy Canon would take up too much space, but you can deduce what I think by how I refer to it.

  12. My honest top ten would be full of blindingly obvious titles, so I’d have to self-consciously run the Zizek route and try to concoct a list that makes me sound like a more interesting film viewer. But my letter from Sight & Sound got lost in the mail, so I haven’t bothered yet.

    I love film lists in general, and this one is providing endless joy. Been scouring the top tens by everyone I know/recognize looking for outliers (sometimes they’re such outliers that I think they might be typos – did Amy Taubin really pick COSMOPOLIS?). I’m thinking I need to watch these outliers right away – after all, each is somebody’s favorite-ish film of ALL TIME. Perversely, these seem more important than catching up on unwatched consensus titles like LATE SPRING and MOTHER & THE WHORE and THE PASSENGER…

  13. David Boxwell Says:

    Re: HE WHO GETS SLAPPED. Just watched Sjostrom’s THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (21), which may well be the _first_ “Greatest Film Ever Made.” The realistic acting was so far from what was in virtually all other contemporary films as to come from another planet. It also revels in special effects in an important way (but alas, VS didn’t know how to move the camera at this point).

  14. Bergman felt that Sjostrom was a bit hammy and needed to be reined in, but when you see him in his prime, he’s marvelously restrained. The way he laughs: no tossing the head back, silent-movie style, he just grins, and we SENSE his ribs moving slightly.

    Yes, it’s a great film. The lavish Duvivier remake is pretty special too.

    Zizek’s list doesn’t seem to me worthy of serious attention. Either Zizek himself didn’t pay it attention, or it really is the stuff he actually enjoys watching, in which case he should do us the favour of never writing about cinema again.

    David W, your list is a map of your heart, like Del Toro and Davies’!

  15. Zizek can and should go fuck himself.

    Sjostrom belongs in the top one of sexy actor/directors. That was the audience consensus after “The Phantom Carriage” was shown at the Castro a few years ago.

  16. Everybody loves a bad boy! (Unless he’s Zizek!)

  17. I hate the list game. The only thing worse than reading them is making them.

  18. Zizek’s list is enjoyably wacky. Losey’s Eve is a great maudit. I was thinking about it just the other day when TCM ran How To Murder Your Wife (both feature Virna Lisi) Don’t know Patroni-Griffi’s Tis’ Pity She’s a Whore, but I love Jacobean Revenge Tragedies, Charlotte Rampling and of course Patroni-Griffi’s The Driver’s Seat

  19. I also thought _Fearless_ was a bit of a head-scratcher from de Heer; certainly there are more offbeat/interesting Australian choices if he wanted to go in that direction. I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if he had put one of his own films on the list — certainly _Bad Boy Bubby_ has stayed with me more than most films.

    Which brings me straight to Mike Leigh, since I think _Bubby_ and _Naked_ would be a double bill to really put you through the wringer, but Leigh’s choice of _How a Mosquito Operates_ was about as left-field as it gets, at least in terms of how it seems to relate to Leigh’s oeuvre.

    One list that surprised me was that from Michel Hazanavicius — despite his pastiches of past forms, I didn’t expect to be so un-contemporary. Not many people avoided post-1980 titles entirely.

  20. Leigh’s, I have to say, was a really good list. I like very few of his films, and I like the least typical bits best. Maybe his list could be seen as a way to open out appreciation of his work past the “theatrical take on social realism” model.

    Hazanavicius includes only one true silent (and even that has a MovieTone score) and his choices are all canonical classics, but they do suggest a wider range than his work so far. I do have hope for him, especially if he works more on his comedy chops.

  21. Christopher Says:

    my top 10…in no particular order
    The Good The Bad and the Ugly
    Sunset Blvd.
    Bride Of Frankenstein
    Modern Times
    He Who Gets Slapped
    La Belle et La Bete
    The Black Cat

  22. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that’s the Ulmer-Karloff-Lugosi Black Cat, and not, say, the Fulci. I can tell you’re a man who knows what he likes!

  23. On Leigh, anyone who votes for American Madness (which would be, um, just Mike Leigh) is all right in my book.

    There are things I like in all of the Hazanavicius films I’ve seen, but they always seem to fall just short; his comic timing is sometimes just a hair off, and he sometimes fails to realize when he’s flogging a joke to death, but there’s a genuine love of the original material in the pastiches that might be the wellspring for something more. It would be interesting to see him try a film that didn’t have Jean Dujardin’s charm to fall back on/distract.

  24. Christopher Says:

    yep..the1934 Black Cat from Ulmer and the gang from Gombos…Was watching it awhile back with the captions on to see the correct pronunciation for some of those wild eastern europe names ..Lugosi must have loved being able to rattle off in his native hungarian more than a few times..

  25. “Pigslaw?”

  26. Yes, I know my list is deeply personal…but I’ve never seen the point of a list that wasn’t.

    Vertigo used to be on mine, but now it’s been officially consecrated by Sight & Sound, I no longer feel the need to sing its praises. Still, it’s a whole lot more interesting than Citizen Kane…which isn’t even Orson Welles’s best film, in my view, let alone the greatest ever!

    What does everyone have against Slavoj Zizek? OK, I know he’s chronically overrated and ridiculously self-important and his series The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema was about as deep as a pizza tray. But at least I wasn’t bored by it.

  27. Well, he puts a lot of effort into not being boring. Because he isn’t, deep down, interesting at all. Being desperate to not be boring is boring.

    I have other films by Welles I prefer to Kane, but it was a pretty progressive choice for Best Ever: an unconventional narrative structure with an unlikable protagonist and an unhappy ending, a commercial flop at the time… add the Bernard Herrmann score and we can say that Vertigo replaces it admirably.

    Vertigo’s triumph could be said to express the idea that critics are no longer even slightly uncomfortable with the idea of genre.

  28. I always took the view that Kane was an excellent choice for best film, but a poor choice for best Welles film. And I see no contradiction in that.

  29. I actually doubt that, since what’s missing from the S&S list are the expressive genre triumphs celebrated by Cahiers and others. It’s very much directed towards High Art, which I am okay with, so long as it’s the right kind and not white elephant, but that does leave films by Fuller, Ray and Aldrich and others out of the loop.

    Vertigo isn’t really a genre film, it’s kind of but not really Film Noir, and it’s a detective film that goes south at the middle of the film. From Hitchcock, Psycho and North by Northwest are more purely genre films. That and it’s very lush visually, shot in VistaVision, as is The Searchers, the only Western in the high pantheon.

  30. Welles’ best film is F For Fake

    Perfect as a double feature with Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train — whose title is a direct deathbed quote from Welles’ chief F For Fake collaborator.

  31. Danny Carr Says:

    Here’s my list with all the obvious ones taken out, and with some Mike Leigh to annoy you (and because he’s great):

    diary of a country priest
    bleak moments
    buffalo ’66
    hedgehog in the fog
    broadcast news
    grey gardens
    jazz on a summer’s day
    high and low

  32. Yay, Yuri Nornstein! Though I’d go for The Tale of Tales myself. I should write something about him, he seems under-appreciated in America. And in his homeland.

  33. Danny Carr Says:

    I prefer Hedgehog (I’m choosing hauntingly cute over hauntingly sad). I’ve got about 15 minutes of The Overcoat on VHS somewhere if you’re interested (although loads of it is on youtube). Can a film that started shooting 31 years ago and still isn’t finished be counted in ‘The Forgotten’?

  34. The Wild Bunch
    Battles without honor and humanity (the 5 parts)
    The Godfather
    Dr Strangelove
    Branded to kill
    Throne of blood
    Peeping Tom
    Les Yeux sans visage
    Blue Velvet

    Obs:where I come from,10=11

  35. Or 15, since you’re including a five-film series! A bit like the lists where critics were allowed to count The Godfather and Part II as a single film.

  36. Because,well,the 5 parts as a whole gave me the most overwhelming film experience ever.
    “Battle…is to cinema what Ulysses is to literature.Whatever you want to know about cinema,Battle has it” (Friedkin).

  37. Makes sense that Friedkin would dig Fukasaku.

    Someone sent me copies of those films YEARS ago, and one immediately got run over by my swivel chair. I must get a replacement and watch them!

  38. I have no quarrel with the sentiment that Zizek “can and should go fuck himself”, but he is the only one of the 800 odd participants who voted for the sublime On Dangerous Ground. Now, if only he had the sense not to put Hitman on the same list…

  39. Yeah, that’s the thing. If it had been a list of complete crap, it would’ve been an acceptable joke/confession “This is what I really enjoy watching.” But implying any kind of equivalence between the Ray film and most of the other stuff is REALLY obnoxious.

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