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There's a lot of talk about lists lately. Just the other day we chewed on Roger Ebert's inclusion of Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" in his personal top 10 films of all time as part of the 2012 Sight & Sound critics and filmmakers poll (which Guy is agonizing over currently as he was asked to participate this time around -- Friday's the deadline).
Meanwhile, HitFix's own Drew McWeeny offered up his personal list of 20 last night as a lead-in to a feature Film School Rejects managing editor Scott Beggs (aka Cole Abaius) has been working through for a few days now. I was also asked to participate in that poll, which was largely net-based in focus and therefore younger in demographic. So I might as well offer up some extended thoughts, too.
I've been doing this in one form or another for 12 years, going back to college and, really, my teens. I'm 30 now. And one question I've been asked frequently over that span of time is, "Hey, what are your top 10 films of all time?"
I rarely give an answer. Or I'll maybe offer up a handful of films that are at the tip-top of the list and leave it at that. Why be so coy? Because I just wasn't sure. And really, "all time?" Maybe I should wait ANOTHER 30 years before going there. When I do the lists you guys see week in and week out throughout the year, my concern, first and foremost, is, "Am I being honest with myself? Is this or that collective really representative of how I feel about the topic at hand?"
It's easy to get lost in the overwhelming sense of duty to certain accomplishments. It's also difficult to strip that away and find the essence of your own convictions. And 12 years into this job, as I look at the films I put on this list way back when, I see that it's pretty much the exact same. And that says, to me, that my list has stood up under my own scrutiny for long enough that, okay, I'll finally answer the question.
A number of readers who have followed me over the years have actually sussed this out. There was even a thread some time ago when a few readers were taking stabs at guessing my list based on my commentary over the years. And I smiled, because they were damn close. I don't know if I ever actually came out with it in that comments section or not, but in any case, with Sight & Sound around the corner and Abaius's homework presented in full this morning, now seems like as good a time as any.
But first, some notes on the collective list, which was taken from 37 film critics/journalists and four filmmakers (who were NOT asked to participate in the Sight & Sound poll, it should be noted). "This list," Abaius says, "is the temperature of the online movie community in regards to what movies are the 'greatest.'" And yeah, some of it is what you'd expect.
However, I actually share a #1 spot with my fellow participants, and that's heartening. Others on the list that fit the (perhaps unfair) profile of the panel include "The Empire Strikes Back," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Back to the Future," but I was happy to see Sight & Sound mainstays "8 1/2" and "Vertigo" pop up, as well as a surprise showing for "Bicycle Thieves." I don't mean that to sound patronizing or anything, so please don't take it that way. I'm just discovering some colleagues' tastes, many of which I wasn't aware.
My list only shares three with the collective. But all of the films on mine are representative, I think, of what I look for in filmmaking: strong visions that push, in some way, our perspective on the medium, as well as tight stories told in visually dynamic ways, ways that can be as esoteric as they can be straight-forward.
I'm getting to the list, but let me also offer up a few thoughts on a handful of films that just missed the cut, like Werner Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God." Here is a film that builds atmosphere like few others, establishing a near-meditative mise en scène, lulling the viewer into the downward spiral of insanity shared by its players.
Once upon a time, Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" was on the next tier for me, but just recently I discovered a change of heart on the filmmaker's work. "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" is, for me, just about a perfect film, so it would leap-frog Spielberg's happy accident (not to be too reductive) and threaten the 10 today.
Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's joyful ode to a time and place, "Singin' in the Rain" -- which made Drew's list -- has also been a dominant figure on that second tier. Ditto Spike Lee's eruptive "Do the Right Thing," which creeps up the ladder every time I see it.
In fact, I was actually a bit surprised at how many of Drew's selections either sit pretty on my list or are just on the outside. Another along the lines of the latter would be Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso," which I love for a lot of the same reasons as Kelly and Donen's film, but it just levels me in the final act, every single time.
Others worth mentioning include Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai," Oliver Stone's "JFK," Jean-Luc Godard's "Contempt," Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity," Woody Allen's "Annie Hall," Victor Fleming's "The Wizard of Oz," F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise," Michael Mann's "Heat," Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather Part II," Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" and Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas."
The only films of the last decade that would warrant consideration are Andrew Dominik's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and Lars von Trier's "Dogville."
But in the end there are 10, and these are mine, with just a few notes on each because I see no need to bury these in considerations and commentary. There are, interestingly enough, three filmmakers with two films each on the list. And those six films are right in the middle, non-stop.
The order of these ebbs and flows, but ultimately, I find that the films themselves stay the course. If there was a #11, it would probably be "Aguirre, the Wrath of God."
Anyway, on to the list. Feel free to rate the titles as you go (and/or offer up your own list below). Sorry for being so coy over the years. I had to be sure(ish).
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