Last month I wrote an article about how no one movie can be “The greatest movie of all time”. The idea being that how good a movie is, is far too subjective to be quantifiable, thus it is all a matter of opinion. This in itself wouldn’t be a problem but when take into account the variables, not to mention that opinions both differ and change the whole idea falls apart. While the point may have been lost in my esoteric ramblings, it did create a certain amount of discussion. At the time, I didn’t realise it was time for Sight and Sound to update its list of “The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time”
The list (compiled every ten years since its inception in 1962) was voted for by “A panel of 846 distributors, academics and critics” who each chose a top ten, 2,045 different films in total. The big news is that after 50 years, Citizen Kane has topped from the top spot by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. As I looked through the list all the usual thoughts came to mind: is 8½ really a top ten movie? My favorite Federico Fellini film is down at number 39. La Jetée is great and influential but 50 greatest of all time, really? Great to see Some Like It Hot on the list but why isn’t it in the top ten. Pleased but surprised to see Mulholland Dr. on the list. There is a lot of Andrei Tarkovsky on the list! Should I admit that I have never heard of Late Spring, Ugetsu monogatari or Close-Up? But all this speculation misses my own point. There is no such thing as The Greatest Film of All time, and therefore there can not be a top 50 greatest.
The list and the fact it has changed perfectly proves my point. None of the top ten movies was released since the last time the list was undated a decade ago. Actually only two of the top ten (Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey from 1968 and Federico Fellini‘s 8½ from 1963) where released since the list was first conceived in 1962. Have films suddenly got better or worse? The films haven’t changed, the audiences have. We often talk about films aging well or poorly, this isn’t true, the films are the same as they ever were, its is just our mindset or zeitgeist as we watch them. This also asks another question, why so few modern movies? Are old films really better than new ones? I am the first to defend older movies but firmly believe there have been good and bad movie made through the history of filmmaking. So why no place on the list? Are the voters to set in their ways or attached to the old films on the list to let them slip away in favour of something more modern? Do they feel a movie is like vintage wine and last to mature before being considered? Will the list in ten or twenty years be full of films from the 80’s and 90’s? I don’t know the answers, but to look for them would give undeserving credence to the idea that fifty films are better than all others, at least for the next ten years when they update their list again.
When a blogger writes a “best of” list, it is personal to them it is a list of their favourites or the best in their opinion, but when a collective is brought together to vote it appears to lend a certain credibility (like Oscar voters!!!), but this in itself creates problems. Philip French writes in today’s Observer about films that didn’t make the list “ Ingmar Bergman, too, has also been and gone, possibly because votes were divided between a string of his masterpieces. The same is true of the French new wave, with neither Truffaut nor Godard reaching the top 10”. French should know, he is one of the 846 critics who voted on the list. He goes on to talk about the films he voted for the first time he was asked to participate in 1972. The fact that he has changed his list over time says it all. When voting are people conscious that their choices may be published and they could be judged on them, you may feel The Man with Two Brains is the best comedy of all time but you will look more intellectual if you put La Règle du jeu on your list. So do the opinions of critics and film makers matter more than those of the audiences who watch them? Again it is a question I won’t answer but it is one worth thinking about. None of the Sight and Sound top ten appear in the top ten of the IMDB top 250, Empire top 500 or the Rotten Tomatoes top 100!
Back to the headline of Vertigo v Kane; for two films that have been around for so long Vertigo and Citizen Kane have seen a real change in opinion in recent years. I fell in love with Vertigo when I first saw it around twenty years ago, my opinion of it hasn’t changed. Even back then it wasn’t the most loved or appreciated of films. On the other hand Citizen Kane was still considered the greatest film of all time. It has seen a certain backlash in recent years, especially in the film blogging community. In some quarters it has become a badge of hour to say “I’ve never seen Citizen Kane”. This is a shame, as much as I have turned against the idea of definitive lists of THE best films of all time, I do think all film fans should see Citizen Kane if only for Gregg Toland’s stunning photography.
I have asked more questions than I have given answers but stand by my headline, it isn’t absurd that Vertigo is suddenly better than Citizen Kane, the absurdity lies in the concept of there being a top ten or a top fifty. It is more troubling that it is all taken so seriously, the fun is take out of the movies and the process of compiling a list. And that is my final point as much as I don’t like the idea of definitive best of lists, they can be fun to compile and if you take the fun away they are totally pointless.
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How would you vote? Would you pick your favourite ten movies or would you try and be subjective and pick what you feel are “the best” films? The following guidance was given to the voters: “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.”
The Sight and Sound top ten for 2012 is:
- Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
- Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
- Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
- La Règle du jeu (Jean Renoir, 1939)
- Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
- The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
- Man With a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
- The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1927)
- 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)
As of today, the top ten movies on the IMDB top 250 are:
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- The Godfather (1972)
- The Godfather: Part II (1974)
- Pulp Fiction (1994)
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
- 12 Angry Men (1957)
- Schindler’s List (1993)
- The Dark Knight (2008)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
- Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The top ten on the Empire “ The 500 Greatest Movies of all Time” as voted for by “10,000 Empire readers (including me), 150 of Hollywood’s finest and 50 Key film critics” is:
- The Godfather (1972)
- Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
- The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
- Jaws (1975)
- Goodfellas (1990)
- Apocalypse Now (1979)
- Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
- Pulp fiction (1994)
- Fight club (1999)