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What Sight & Sound (Mostly) Missed: My Personal Top 20 Films of All Time

Posted by Charles Reece, August 3, 2012 06:49pm | Post a Comment
Sight & Sound has released its "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" list for the decade. The good news is that Hitchcock took over the number 1 position from Welles and Eisenstein was kicked out of the top 10. About time. The top 20 from the list are: (1) Vertigo (2) Citizen Kane (3) Tokyo Story (4) The Rules of the Game (5) Sunrise (6) 2001 (7) The Searchers (8) Man with a Movie Camera (9) The Passion of Joan of Arc (10)  (11) Battleship Potemkin (12) L'Atalante (13) Breathless (14) Apocalypse Now (15) Late Spring (16) Au hasard Balthazar (17/18) Seven Samurai and Persona (tie) (19) Mirror (20) Singin' in the Rain. This got me to wondering: which films do I always feel like watching, regardless of what I'm reading, thinking about or feeling? After about an hour (which is more time spent than these kind of lists are probably worth), the following is what I came up with as the films that have and will likely continue to provide me with the most enjoyment, discarding any historical concern for the aesthetic enrichment of the cinematic commonweal. In no particular order, my 20 list:

bladerunner poster
Blade Runner - Ridley Scott

sweet smell of success criterion cover
Sweet Smell of Success - Alexander Mackendrick

high and low criterion cover
High and Low - Akira Kurosawa

once upon a time in the west poster italian
Once Upon a Time in the West - Sergio Leone

invasion of the body snatchers poster
Invasion of the Body Snatchers - Don Siegel

spirits of the dead poster polish
Toby Dammit (from Spirits of the Dead) - Federico Fellini

jackie brown poster
Jackie Brown - Quentin Tarantino

le trou poster
Le Trou - Jacques Becker

dazed and confused poster
Dazed and Confused - Richard Linklater

mulholland drive poster
Mulholland Drive - David Lynch

the third man poster
The Third Man - Carol Reed

children of men poster
Children of Men - Alfonso Cuarón

touch of evil poster
Touch of Evil - Orson Welles

playtime poster polish
Playtime - Jacques Tati

naked spur poster german
The Naked Spur - Anthony Mann

ichi the killer poster
Ichi the Killer - Takashi Miike

monty python's life of brian poster
Monty Python's Life of Brian - Terry Jones

les espions poster
Les Espions - Henri-Georges Clouzot

2001 a space odyssey poster polish
2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick

rear window poster
Rear Window - Alfred Hitchcock

Three of my favorite directors, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder and Shôhei Imamura, aren't represented, because there isn't any one of their films that I'm quite as obsessed with as those listed above (although The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Kiss Me, Stupid and The Insect Woman, respectively, come really close). And I could've just as easily picked any number of Hitchock and Kubrick films to fit the bill (since they're the best), but I limited myself to no more than one choice per director.

Although this is my own somewhat idiosyncratic list,* I think it's just as aesthetically defensible as Sight
& Sound
's. It's hard to believe anyone prefers the experience of watching Eisenstein's propaganda to any of the above or, for that matter, to Lang, Wilder and Imamura. I suspect that there are at least a few choices based on estimated historical importance, which tends to make such lists conform to a consensually derived notion of objectivity where it becomes feasible that only a few critics might actually enjoy watching some of what they've chosen as the "greatest." Historical import does not necessitate great art: D.W. Griffith made shit films, for example, but made it onto the list back in 1952 (for Intolerance), only to disappear. Eisenstein was an important theorist, but his films just ain't that good. He will continue to drop down the list, I predict. Also, Tarkovsky is much more fashionable right now than Antonioni, so supporting the consensus as "intersubjective objectivity" tends to influence the rise of one existential hero over another, even when the former's new age earnestness is far more risible. Likewise, the inclusion of The Tree of Life and In the Mood for Love. Antonioni and Resnais are just too much?

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[*] Of my represented directors, these made S&S's list: Fellini (10 & 39), Hitchcock (1 & 35), Kubrick (6), Kurosawa (17 & 26), Lynch (28), Tati (42), Welles (2). Of my chosen films, these made the list: 2001 (6),Mulholland Drive (28), Playtime (42).

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Blade Runner poster is by Sam's Myth; Children of Men is by Noah Hornstein;  Dazed and Confused is by Adam Juresko; High and Low is by John Scarratt; Invasion of the Body Snatchers is by Daniel Norris; Jackie Brown is by Olly Moss; Life of Brian is by Williams and Lim; Mulholland Drive is by Grzegorz Domaradzki; Rear Window is by JoE Chiang; Sweet Smell of Success is by Sean Phillips; The Third Man is by Jordan Gray; not sure about the origins of the Ichi the Killer design; the other posters are from foreign releases of the films, mostly Polish, because their designs are so wonderfully kooky.

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Most of my selections are readily available for home viewing: Rear Window2001Life of BrianIchi the KillerThe Naked SpurPlaytime, Touch of Evil, Children of Men, The Third Man, Mulholland Drive, Dazed and Confused, Le Trou, Jackie Brown, Toby Dammit, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Once Upon a Time in the West, High and Low, Sweet Smell of Success, Blade Runner. Les Espions has unfortunately never been domestically released in the States.

Relevant Tags

Blade Runner (3), Sweet Smell Of Success (2), High And Low (2), Once Upon A Time In The West (1), Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (2), Toby Dammit (1), Jackie Brown (2), Le Trou (1), Dazed And Confused (3), Mulholland Drive (2), The Third Man (1), Children Of Men (1), Touch Of Evil (1), The Naked Spur (1), Monty Python's Life Of Brian (1), Ichi The Killer (1), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1), Playtime (1), Rear Window (1), Sight & Sound (2), Best Film List (1)