Tuesday, August 2, 2022

SOME THOUGHTS ON "SIGHT AND SOUND"'s UPCOMING POLL RESULTS OF THEIR DECENNIAL GREATEST FILMS OF ALL-TIME POLL! And yeah, fine, I'll do a list of my own again.

 

Every ten years, the famed British publication "Sight and Sound", an offshoot periodical from the BFI, or the British Film Institute conducts polls of all the world's most respected, accomplished and acclaimed film critics and filmmakers and simply gives them the one question, and that's to list what they consider the Top Ten Greatest Films of All-Time. There's no other qualifiers, they can use any/all arbitrary definitions of whatever the person chooses the words "Greatest" means. There's quite few other qualifiers; you can't put a bunch of movies together if they weren't originally supposed to be viewed together or were made separately from each other, so like, unlike past years, you can't list "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II" as a single film, but other than that, there isn't much else in regards to standards and qualifier, you just have to pick ten, and only ten. Their goal is simple, just to find what is considered by the greatest film of all-time, and doing so by asking the most qualified experts in the field, worldwide. 

Obviously, since they still haven't asked me to participate, they clearly have failed in this objective, again, but y'know, par for the course. BFI and Sight and Sound aren't that great or prestigious anyway.

(Regrettable sigh) 

Anyway, I talked about this annual poll ten years ago, when despite being continuous ignored by the group even then, I put out my own list anyway. I'm not alone a lot of people do, and they've been doing it lately. Honestly I wasn't going to this year, until everybody else started doing it. I mean, I feel like I do too many lists as it is on this blog, and honestly, as much as I do love lists, we all do, eh, my main concern is that, essentially, you can only really tell so much from them. This list is the most popular in the film world because of how it's been used as a guide, not for what the best film is necessarily but for how the world of film looks at the cinema of the past. In 1952, the first year of the list, the best film was Vittorio Di Sica's "The Bicycle Thief", or "Bicycle Thieves" if you prefer the more correct translation of the Italian title. It had only been released four years earlier when it won that poll. "Citizen Kane" famously won the poll the next five times, they held the poll, and "The Bicycle Thief" hasn't been in the Top Ten since 1962. Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane" came out earlier of course, it released in 1941, but it wasn't as fresh in peoples' minds; it hadn't been seen since it's original release and only after the passing of William Randolph Hearst, who basically had it covered up, did the film finally reemerge and it's importance, greatness and most notably it's influence, became abundantly clear. 

In 2012 however, for whatever reason, that streak ended when Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" overtook "Citizen Kane" bumping it off the top. There's a lot of theories as to why this happened. The fact that despite the attempts of "Sight & Sound" the fact that they are a British/European publication means that it's more predominantly bias towards European sentiments and influences, and "Vertigo" is particularly influential in Europe. It also had gained influence in America too, like how it raised over fifty slots on AFI's similar 100 Films Poll from 61 in 1998's poll to 9th in their 2008 poll. Also, I think there was just general rebellious backlash to the notion of ranking "Citizen Kane" number one, and it just happened to be the film that was chosen to overtake it. While I think it's incredibly difficult to argue that the film is not the most important film and influential film ever made, I can definitely understand people who say, don't think it's particularly entertaining or fun or whatever. I know plenty of people who hate the film, including a lot of film people;  I get it. I didn't rank it number one last time, either. I was just as rebellious and said, "Fuck it, I'm picking the movie I like the most for number one," and clearly I wasn't the only one.

And honestly beyond all that, there's something weird about this list and it's process in general. For one, as any true film person will tell you, narrowing this kind of process down to ten, is just cruel and unusual punishment for us. As of this writing, I've seen, well over 5,000 feature films, and that's not counting short films, and hell, you technically could count television programs for this list now; last time "The Wire" got two votes. It also kinda zeroes on just, the films that somebody out there might consider the absolute greatest and it actually a lot of other amazing and generally highly-regarded great films that, just don't make lists like these because we generally wouldn't rank them in our Top Tens. A movie like Sidney Lumet's "Network" comes to my mind, make a top 100 list, it'll show up almost every time, it's widely considered one of the most prescient and ahead-of-it's-time films out there but narrow it to ten, and it falls way down. Or "Rocky" for instance shares a similar fate, among many others. To go back to those AFI's list for example, even though those lists were limited to American movies, #17 on that list in '98, and #65 in 2008 was John Huston's "The African Queen", a movie that on BFI's list, did not get two votes from anybody. Does that mean it's not a great film, that AFI's list is just weirder for including it? (Shrugs) ehhh-i'on'tno? Maybe? I mean, I never think of it as among Bogart's or Hepburn's or John Huston's best films, but I would've thought some people would've put it in there, right? There's plenty of others. Bob Rafelson just died, I know if maybe they asked for a Top 100 list, "Five Easy Pieces" would probably be higher ranked on these lists, but for a top ten, do you really have room to put it on a Top Ten? Or how about any of his other films? Only "Five Easy Pieces" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice" got multiple votes. 

In fact, another issue with this poll, is how it can be bias towards films/filmmakers who are generally considered to have one single movie be considered their absolute masterpiece. I'm not saying it is their masterpiece, or their only good film or only good to be worthy of being on such a list, I'm saying that percention-wise, the film is considered their masterpiece. Filmmakers for whom, the debate on what their best film actually is, tend to struggle in these polls, even great filmmakers. If you go on Mubi.com, where they have a page that lovingly ranks all the films that got at least two votes in the last poll, they rank them together, but if you go through that list, you'll notice that there are quite a few instance of filmmakers who have multiple films, literally right next to or near each other in the rankings. It's easier to single out a director's single great film as oppose to looking at a giant collection of their work, and if that fil is beloved, they would do better than directors who everybody disagrees on their best film, so their votes get spread over multiple films of theirs. 

It's not a negative per se, but it is a quirk. There's a lot of quirks with all polls, and this one in particular, being ranked periodically ever decade, and limited to ten films, means that, I don't really think of these lists as entirely accurate readings of greatness, but rather as looks at ourselves. A reading of the modern zeitgeist of the time and what that says about ourselves, both in terms of the overall lists results, and in turn, with our own individual choices. The films aren't so much a standing for our definite picks for what we believe to be the best, but rather, a small representation of who we are at the moment we do them. 

In that respect, I really don't like my list from 2012 anymore. If you clicked on that earlier link to my blog, you'll know how I got to the Top Ten, 'cause I wrote the post in a manner that made it seem like I was literally trying to figure out the list as I was writing it (Which is because, that was exactly how I actually came up with it.); I'm not doing that this year, I already know what my list is going to be going into this blog, but still, I don't like my old list. 

MY 2012 LIST: 
1. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz)
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola)
3. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
5. Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders)
6. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston)
7. Metropolis (Fritz Lang)
8. Rashomon (Akira KUROSAWA)
9. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino)
10. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola)

It's not that these aren't great movies, or don't deserve to be on a list like list, in fact most of my list, isn't gonna change, but eh, I don't really know why I picked some of these, and I don't like how I picked some of them. I basically through in "Pulp Fiction" just out of some half-baked notion that it was somehow, "his time", or whatever. (Blows raspberries) Eh, I was still out of college and while I do still love Tarantino, I was also clearly still in that phase. Post-film school grad,- phase where Tarantino was just the coolest, or whatever. There's actually a lot of this list I don't love though. I don't love how American it is, there's only three foreign films and one of them is silent on here. Almost all white men, and one white woman. Perhaps I put films on here more out of obligation as opposed to what I genuinely thought was the best. 

"The Godfather" now feels weird on this list to me. It'll always be one of my core films, I'm Italian-American after all, I grew up on the movie; it's basically a part of my cultural identity, and it's still a great, one of my all-time favorite films, I've probably watched it more than any other film on this list except for "Casablanca", but eh, do I need it to be on here? Or any Francis Ford Coppola film? Considering how much I've watched and talked about his films, especially his absolute best films from the '70s, it's kinda surprising to me how little I think about him as a great filmmaker, and frankly, how much I find myself looking for films outside "The Godfather" these days as standards of greatness to compare. 

Why did I somehow think I needed a Coppola film, and didn't need a Hitchcock film? No, the rest of the world was right on that one. Hitchcock's the greater more important and more influential filmmaker, but I'm not putting "Vertigo" on here. Sorry, I know people who love "Vertigo", and while I don't think it's unworthy of being number one, and I have some great arguments for why it deserved the spot, I have always had issues with and never thought of it as his best film. I think "Psycho"'s is his real masterpiece. I think it's influence is not only greater, more important, more positively influential than much of the movies that were far more inspired by "Vertigo" and if I have to narrow it down to one Hitchcock that everybody should see, I'm gonna pick "Psycho". 

There's some other things, I put "Casablanca", my favorite movie of all-time, ahead of "Citizen Kane", which, eh, you know, I usually do make the favorite exception only for "Casablanca", but it also feels wrong to put it ahead of "Citizen Kane" now. I'm restoring "...Kane" to number one. What can I say, I will prefer the critical best over the personal best. I mean, I could personally chose some other Orson Welles film too, "The Stranger" is a favorite of mine, so is "F for Fake", I know a lot of people have come to the conclusion that that's secretly his best film, and I can definitely see that argument. But I'm still going with "Citizen Kane" at number one. Call me a traditionalist, call me a film snob, whatever, the history of cinema doesn't make sense if you take out "Citizen Kane", I'm making sure it stays in.

Also, last time, I put Wim Wenders's "Wings of Desire" on the list, mainly as sort of a secondary pick over Krzyzstof Kieslowski's "The Decalogue". Mainly because I didn't think I could pick "The Decalogue". That rule I talked about earlier, about how you couldn't lump two films together, "The Decalogue" is weird because it's actually ten films, each about an hour long each one of them about the Ten Commandments. They aired originally as a miniseries in Poland, but made it to theaters eventually in America, not that that distinction matters much anymore in a post-Covid world, but that did mean that they weren't eligible as an entirety in the past. I've double-check though, and while I can't put the Godfather films together still, the rule is that, I can pick something like this, if they were meant to be watch together in their entirety. So, in other words, I can pick "The Decalogue", the same way I could say pick, other longer-than-average multipart features, like Fassbinder's "Berlin Alexanderplatz" or perhaps more recently David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" reboot that the Cahier du Cinema people seem to love so much. So, "The Decalogue" goes back on. I don't necessarily think that should mean that "Wings of Desire" goes off though; they're different films, and truly great in different ways, but hmm, they are similar enough..., perhaps too similar for this list, at least for me, at least this year....

I do want to try be as inclusive and varied on this list as possible, but it's hard. People do relate to stimuli that's more familiar to them then stuff that might seem more foreign. I am a cis white male, so as much as I'd love to see more foreign filmmakers on here, I'm probably going to understand, appreciate and relate to films made by cis white male filmmakers more often than others. So, should I just sacrifice films I think are better for films by filmmakers that I think should be more recognized, especially minority filmmakers? No, that's the same thinking that led to me to putting "Pulp Fiction" on there when I shouldn't have. 

No, Tarantino didn't belong on there, and while I wish I could say that instead I'm putting on Spike Lee, or Satyajit Ray or Ousmane Sembane or Luis Bunuel, or Sergei Eisenstein or Fernando Meirelles or Hector Babenco, or..., if there's a director I most feel passionate that I feel should be on my list, and should've been on there before, it was Billy Wilder. Especially if we're talking movies, films about making films, even tangentially should be represented, and for me, "Sunset Blvd", is really his best. I can argue for "Some Like It Hot" or "The Apartment" or "Double Indemnity" as well, but man, those are great films but I don't any of them are as good, or have as much good influence out there. So, "Sunset Blvd" gets the spot that it should've had all along.

Does that mean that I should just ignore recent films entirely? The only film from the 2000s that made my list last time was "Lost in Translation", and there's some stuff about that film and including the perspective of the filmmaker that you can regard as questionable now. I lost one Coppola, can I lose two? And is there something modern I could replace it with? I thought about Barry Jenkins's "Moonlight", I thought about BONG Joon-Ho's "Parasite", I thought about Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life", I even came close to putting "Hamilton" on here. All films that I think deserve to be on lists like these but I did feel like I needed to have at least one female director on here. No, I can't adequately explain why it feels more wrong to me to not have a female director than it does an African, African-American, Latino, or other nationality or group of directors that isn't represented, but it just does.

So, is there a film by a female director that I'd rather have on this list or I think more deserves the spot? Well, I'm partial to Lina Wertmuller's "Swept Away By an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August", (And she's generally a filmmaker who also got screwed on the last list, not one film of hers got two votes!) I like Jane Campion, and I think "The Piano" is great. I've been a huge Lisa Cholodenko fan since "High Art" and "Laurel Canyon". Marielle Heller and Lynne Ramsay have blown me away. Celine Sciamma's movies have really been inspiring to me, as have Catherine Breillat's. Somehow though, I can't seem to shake how rare and beautiful the emotional ennui of "Lost in Translation" is, and for that, how much more difficult I think it is to get that effect with a movie. That's the one that's always stuck with me and remains sticking to me. Yeah, I just credit that more than I do the accomplishments of other films. 

So here we go, this is how I'm ranking my Top Ten Films, now: 

MY 2022 TOP TEN LIST
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
2. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz)
3. The Decalogue (Krzyzstof Kieslowski)
4. Sunset Blvd (Billy Wilder)
5. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)
6. Metropolis (Fritz Lang)
7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
8. Ikiru (Akira KUROSAWA)
9. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola)
10. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston)

"Citizen Kane" goes back up top. A couple other minor and trivial changes to the order of the films. "The Decalogue" does replace "Wings of Desire", which is basically my number one of the several number elevens I have. I replace the Tarantino with the Wilder, I replace the Coppola with the Hitchcock. Oh, and I did switch KUROSAWA films, from "Rashomon" and "Ikiru". I don't have a real deep reason on this one, they're both basically tied for me, and I decided that, as long as I feel like I need a Kurosawa film on here, which, I do, that I would just keep switching between them every ten years. I had "Rashomon" last time, so this time, I'm putting "Ikiru" in there. Anyway, it feels right. Admittedly, I probably thought it felt right the last time I did this list and ten years from now I'll probably regret how I made this list.  

As to what I expect/predict from Sight & Sound's actual results this year? I think there'll be a lot of the same and a lot different, and a lot of intrigue. They usually release all the results of everybody who voted and personally I find those more interesting than the overall results. If I am making predictions, than I'll say that "Citizen Kane" regains the top spot on at least the critics poll. I'll say "The Searchers" will fall out of the Top Ten. Despite my taking it off my list, I think "Pulp Fiction" will break into the Top 100. And I think, overall, more female films and filmmakers will be represented, especially the likes of Agnes Varda and Chantal Akerman I suspect. As for modern films, "Parasite", "Moonlight", "Portrait of a Lady on Fire", a few others that I suspect will have surprisingly good showings. 

(Shrugs) 

Yeah, I'm not interested in making too many calls. I'm frankly more interested in seeing what's gonna be on there and frankly, hopefully find films that I haven't seen and seek them out. See the movies that others think are the greatest, the movies that have inspired other artists and critics. I hope to expand my cinematic knowledge and vocabulary, which I think should always be our goal, whether as filmmakers, as critics, or even just as fans. Seeing what others consider greats and important enough to preserve, especially when only given space to preserve ten, says a lot about them, and for that matter us. What does it say about me, that I chose these ten? 

I don't know, I'll let others decide that. In the meantime, if you haven't seen any of these films, watch them, see what you think. 

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