Thursday, August 2, 2012

SCOTTIE, DO YOU BELIEVE THAT SOMEONE OUT OF THE PAST - SOMEONE DEAD - CAN ENTER AND TAKE POSSESSION OF A LIVING BEING? I assume many here already saw yesterday's unveiling of the decennial Sight and Sound critics survey of the Greatest Films of All Time.  Greatest? The instructions stated: “We leave that open to your interpretation. You might choose the ten films you feel are most important to film history, or the ten that represent the aesthetic pinnacles of achievement, or indeed the ten films that have had the biggest impact on your own view of cinema.” (Each critic submitted ten films, unranked.)

And for the first time since 1952, a film other than Citizen Kane topped the list, as Vertigo completed its steady rise up the canon, with the pair followed by Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953); La R├Ęgle du jeu (Renoir, 1939); Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (Murnau, 1927); 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968); The Searchers (Ford, 1956); Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929); The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927); and 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963). Gone from the 2002 list? Battleship Potemkin, Singin’ In The Rain (I'm sorry: did "Make 'Em Laugh" stop making 'em laugh in the past decade?), and The Godfather/The Godfather Part II, the last of which because of a ruling that they had to be voted on separately.

What can one say about this list? When you have criteria which bend towards Important, this is what you get, and as Ebert argues this is even more so when there's one film per-director which seems to have already been agreed up as canon. (Francis Ford Coppola, in particular, gets screwed because of a three-way divide as to his most Important film, instead placing three between 14-31.) These are great films, though, and in particular I'd recommend The Searchers and Man with a Movie Camera to those who haven't seen them.

But as Mark Harris and Linda Holmes each tweeted last night, I'm less interested in this list than I am in each critic's list of films #11-20, the quirkier, more idiosyncratic list of personal favorites. Of films that are fun. Show me the list that appreciates Raiders of the Lost Ark and has an "also receiving votes" mention of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, and I'll have much more to say.

24 comments:

  1. Joseph J. Finn8:57 AM

    I suppose we can quibble about rankings and all...but at the end of the day, these are all still great and significant films (though I'm not sure that's Ozu I would choose to top my list).

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  2. Carmichael Harold9:24 AM

    I don't particularly want to defend the self-seriousness of this poll or the idea of a revered "canon" for any form of art (in fact, one of my favorite things about Linda Holmes as a writer is the way she questions the value of there being a canon at all given the biases that create them), but I do think there is something inherently interesting in trying to suss out why certain films make up the film canon and how that composition changes over time.  I guess what I'm trying (poorly) to say is that I think lists like these are interesting for what they say about the culture, rather than the art itself.

    I agree it will be interesting to see what the critics' individual lists actually look like without the compiling that smooths out the rough, idiosyncratic edges, though I'm not sure that the internet is really lacking lists of great films that include (or critical appreciations of) fun films like Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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  3. I don't think you're saying otherwise, Adam, but just to be sure we're all on the same page:  A film can be important AND fun.  For me, the sterling example is my personal favorite, Casablanca, which is one of the funniest movies ever and also an "Important Film."

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  4. It's not Imporant in terms of the development of cinema, or in exemplifying genres or movements, in the way these films are Important. Casablanca's importance is as to the story (and its era), and not the method of its telling.

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  5. I would also say that Citizen Kane and Vertigo are both a lot of fun, the former especially. 

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  6. I understand the necessity of holding off more contemporary movies (and dubbing them "contemporary classics," ugh) for this list so they can breathe on their own for a while, but I really think 'In Bruges' is one of the greatest movies of all time.  ('Vertigo,' you're great and all, and Imma let you finish, but...)

    The cinematography, script, casting, acting, location shots, score, character development -- it's simply sublime.  Maybe in 50 years people will praise it, but probably not because it starred that guy from the 'Fright Night' remake.

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  7. Gleemonex12:20 PM

    I do not like Vertigo and I never will. 

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  8. What's the basis for 2001's importance on that scale?  (Not saying it doesn't have any.  I just don't know what it is.) 

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  9. Adam C.2:04 PM

    Groundbreaking special effects, for one thing.

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  10. Adam C.2:07 PM

    Huh?  Ohhhhh, you mean that guy from the Total Recall remake and the Miami Vice remake and the S.W.A.T. remake.

    (And yeah, GREAT movie.)

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  11. Eric J.2:23 PM

    In addition to the special effects (which hold up better than Star Wars' original effects, I believe) it's the closest think to a painterly, plot-and-character-free art film that ever became a blockbuster. All that most people remember of the film is Dave vs. Hal, but that takes up a relatively short amount of the running time. Much of the film is pure imagery, and communication through motif and repetition.

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  12. Adam C.3:05 PM

    Not to pile on Russ, because Casablanca is an enormously entertaining movie, but I don't think anyone associated with its making even would have called it Important. It was, in its time, a fairly typical examplar of romantic wartime drama - it was just better written, better acted and better shot than most, partly by dint of its being a Warner pic, and it has held up very, very well.  It was also, somewhat famously, being rewritten on the fly, pretty much as it was being shot.  Chalk it up to great talent on both sides of the camera and a healthy dash of lightning in a bottle, but not Important.

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  13. Eric, you've just described why I hate that movie.

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  14. Speaking of being rewritten on the fly, Apocalypse Now does pretty well on these things.

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  15. Adam C., we will have to agree to disagree regarding Casablanca's Importance.  Even if for nothing else other than the fact that it came out when it did (with the war still raging) and took such square aim at the Nazis. 

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  16. So did  Chaplin's The Great Dictator, released more than two years earlier, as well Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be, released earlier in 1942.  (And the Three Stooges' "You Nazty Spy!" preceded Chaplin by months).

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  17. The Great Dictator is imporant, too!

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  18. (I wish I always got to defend positions as easy to defend as "Casablanca is an important movie.")

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  19. I have never understood Vertigo's position atop so many of these lists. It's a fine movie and well made but I think it's so overrated. I agree with Roger Ebert that of the Hitchcocks, Notorious is the one to beat. With Rear Window and Strangers on a Train not far behind, on my list.

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  20. Yes, good list. And I am a little happy to see Citizen Kane off the top, just so there will be fewer "I don't see what's so great about Citizen Kane" remarks everywhere.

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  21. Joseph J. Finn7:43 PM

    And now we can have 10 years of "I don't see what's so great about Vertigo" remarks.

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  22. isaac_spaceman9:26 PM

    If someone can't see what's so great about Vertigo, my god, what's the point?  It will be very easy not to listen to those people. 

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  23. isaac_spaceman9:30 PM

    And the guy from the Danny Boyle zombies movie.

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  24. Hey, DC folks:  I won't be around, but I just noticed that the Bow Tie Cinema at Reston Town Center is showing Vertigo NEXT Sunday morning (Aug. 12) at 11 as part of its "Cine Classics" series.  (I'm thinking of going to see "The Maltese Falcon" this Sunday at 11.)

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