By Matt Singer | Criticwire April 30, 2012 at 9:28AM
Q: Ballots in Sight & Sound's Once-a-Decade Greatest Films Poll are due this week. The last time Sight & Sound held the poll in 2002, here were the top ten films of all time according to critics:
1. "Citizen Kane"
3. "The Rules of the Game"
4. "The Godfather Parts I and II"
5. "Tokyo Story"
6. "2001: A Space Odyssey"
7. "Battleship Potemkin" (tie)
7. "Sunrise" (tie)
9. "8 1/2"
10. "Singin' in the Rain"
So here's your question: You've been contacted by Sight & Sound. They want you to look at the 2002 list, remove the least worthy film, and replace it with the most worthy film that's not mentioned. What do you pick and why?
The critics' answers:
"In the spirit of the weekend that was, I am going to go with a serious organizational need (postwar French cinema) that happens likewise to be the best film available: Jacques Tati's 'Playtime' (1967). As a medium that (still) belongs foremost to the twentieth century, I can think of no other film that so fully encapsulates this historical specificity, from the film's deep embodiment and consequent dissection of the aesthetic precepts of modernism to its reinvention of the art of the greatest silent comedians in an idiom that uses sound more adventurously than any other. If I had to choose just one film to take off the list, it would have to be two: Francis Ford Coppola's 'The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II.' My reason is simple, and I am sure persuasive to no one: I can't make a similarly compelling case for either."
"Dropping any of these ten is a bit of an outrage, and I'm doing so in an almost purely devil's advocate fashion. But since a replacement is called for, a replacement I shall provide: 'The Rules of the Game' is out, everything under it moves up a spot, and 'The 400 Blows' is in, in 10th place. 'The Rules of the Game' is an immaculate and perfect film, which 'The 400 Blows' is certainly not, but the latter is such an emotionally powerful piece of personal filmmaking, and so influential in terms of launching the French New Wave and the effect it had not only on films themselves but filmmakers' creative processes, that I would argue it deserves a spot in the top 10. But I'd still feel like I was giving 'The Rules of the Game' a raw deal in terms of its value as and to cinema."
"Of the 2002 list, the one that drops most easily for me is 'Singin' in the Rain,' which I don't dislike, but I'm just not a big musical person. To replace it: 'Wild Strawberries.' It's a little shocking that there's no Bergman on this list, and that there never has been apart from in the 1972 poll, when this same film was in the ten spot. That should certainly be remedied, as 'Strawberries' deserves a spot among the best of the best: this is the perfect blend of technical mastery and carefully considered narrative. I can watch that brilliant first dream sequence and its imaginative sound design and gorgeous cinematography over and over, and if there's any feeling out there that the film's more surrealist or symbolic touches are too obvious or cliched, I think that's only testament to just how often they've been copied. This is a film of huge ambitions, about examining the entirety of one's behavior in life as death approaches, and it's difficult to approach something that daunting without a sense of grandiose self-importance; what's most remarkable is how Bergman does so with such an accessible and welcoming warmth."
"Anyone who knows me could see this answer coming a mile away. I'd remove 'Singin' in the Rain,' on the grounds that I can rarely tolerate musicals. And I'd add director Darren Aronofsky's 'The Fountain,' my personal favorite movie of all time. The film was essentially a commercial flop -- doomed from the beginning, after star Brad Pitt backed out and production was halted. With a much slimmer budget, Aronofsky re-imagined his epic with leads Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. The result is an emotional gut punch -- a rumination on allowing life (and death) to pass, in three acts (following a conquistador, a modern-day doctor and a space-dwelling man in the future). The visuals, performances and haunting score by Clint Mansell are only the tip of the iceberg -- it's romantic, tragic, bold, and inspired. I revisit this movie once every few months, and it never ceases to wreck me. It's a how-to guide for coping with grief, using fantastical elements as both means of escapism and metaphor. And it's just damn good cinema."
"Assembling lists like these is always an absurd challenge, largely because there have been hundreds more wonderful, moving, revolutionary films than whatever selections wind up on the final roster. I hesitate to even use a phrase like "least worthy," since every one of the films on the 2002 list is remarkable and memorable. If pushed, though, I'd eliminate 'Vertigo,' not because it's a bad film, but because it's neither Hitchcock's best nor a good representative of his career. In its place, I'd have to honor Martin Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver,' for being a moody, revelatory psychodrama that summed up society and filmmaking in the 1970s as well as anything could. The grit, the nuance, the mix of colorful performances and restrained paranoia; the score, good Lord, the score. It was the film that made Scorsese Scorsese, and it is worth so much more to American filmmaking and history than a few catch phrases or trivia questions. It's about faith, obsession, and the teeming masses falling through our cracks. Like all great films, it's one you can watch every five years to learn something more about yourself."
"A very tough question this week, but as much as there are films I like less on that 2002 list, I think 'Singin’ in the Rain' is the least worthy. It’s far from a perfect piece of cinema. I would like to replace it with either a comedy or musical more deserving, but can’t think of anything of the latter. So I’ll go with Buster Keaton’s 'The General,' as perfect a work of comedic visual storytelling as there’s ever been. It used to be a staple of these lists, but it hasn’t even been a runner up the last couple decades. Film critics do have a sense of humor, right? And no, 'Singin’ in the Rain' doesn’t count as an answer to that."
"I'm not going to beat around the bushes with this: 'Jurassic Park' remains a modern marvel to me. In this cinematic age where substance subsides to style among the masses, Spielberg's blockbuster masterpiece seamlessly blended a rich and fantastic story with incredible special effects that continue to awe and inspire. I truly believe it deserves a spot amongst the top 10. That being said, I've never been that fond of 'Singin' in the Rain.' Though I'm not disputing its significance in cinema's history, I'd probably bump that one to make room for 'Jurassic Park,' especially since it's ranked tenth."
"There are no choices in the 2002 list that would place in my own, but most of them are worthy. I'd most likely replace '8 1/2' or 'Singin' in the Rain' with Jacques Tati's 'Playtime,' my favorite of all films, and certainly one that deserves such recognition -- especially as its relevance and brilliance only seem to crystallize as the years pass."
"Of all the films on the list, an embarrassment of riches from which it is admittedly difficult to eliminate any, the one movie I could at least comprehend not being in the top 10 is 'Vertigo.' It's a difficult admission since 'Vertigo' is a favorite of mine. But I just think the other films listed are worthier. And also more worthy is a film I seldom see in any of these lists because, I believe, it just hasn't been seen by many of this generation's film critics. That movie is Bernardo Bertolucci's 'The Conformist' (1970). Its protagonist is a repressed homosexual played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, an Italian fascist who betrays any and all of his associates who might tempt him to stray from the very bourgeois semblance of a life he uses as a duck blind. Bertolucci spends a considerable amount of time establishing the surreal environment Trintignant inhabits, using nonlinear chronology and expressionistic sets to further enhance the dreamlike mood, before shattering it in the last act with an unexpectedly brutal act of violence. Vittorio Storaro's iconic images and, in fact, much of the film's themes strongly influenced 'The Godfather Part II,' in its own way a movie about a repressed man who uses violence to conform to his own idea of the prevalent political atmosphere."
"First of all, they're all worthy films. If I had to take one off, I would choose '8 1/2.' I think there are better Fellini films and it seems as if it's lost a bit of its influence and draw since 2002. I have many personal favorites I'd put in its place, but one that I think others could get behind would be 'City Lights.' The list needs a bit of Chaplin and I think it's clear at this point that his films will never go out of fashion."
"Ooo, you're really stirring the pot with this one. OK, I'll bite: Ditch 'Vertigo' and replace it with 'Greed.' There are some classics of silent cinema already represented, but Von Stroheim's butchered masterpiece remains one of the most powerful evocations of human frailty -- and nature's brutality -- ever captured on film. And I don't think 'Vertigo' is even Hitchcock's best film; it's just the one that makes it easiest for film critics and thesis defenders to connect the dots of the director's obsessions."
"I'd replace 'Battleship Potemkin' with Abbas Kiarostami's 'Close-Up.' Dialectical montage is fun and all, but 'Potemkin' is a chore whenever it's not iconic, and those maggots always ruin my appetite. 'Close-Up' has endured as the cinema's most comprehensive and moving self-analysis, the recent rash of movies about movies only serving to confirm its supreme genius."
"I acknowledge the importance and greatness of the first two 'Godfather' films, but for me this is the easiest choice for me to live with as far as what I would consider the 'least worthy' film on this list, if nothing else because I don't personally treasure those films as highly I do the others on the list. Yeah, I'm copping to adopting a wholly personal approach to this question -- what of it? But then, lists like these inevitably force one to keep in mind both what one subjectively loves and what one might consider 'important.' Keeping those two criteria in mind, then... why do I consider David Cronenberg's 1983 film 'Videodrome' to be worthy of inclusion among these heavy-hitters? Sure, one reason is that I think the movie is a masterpiece. Another reason, however, is that, though the technology depicted in the film may be "archaic" compared to the kind of media we are all inundated with now, the unsettling implications of Max Renn's descent into a media-saturated underworld remain as relevant as ever. Long live the new flesh... and this movie!"
"Well, I've never actually seen 'Tokyo Story,' so it's expendable (only because of my own ignorance; not because it lacks merit). The big omission from the Sight & Sound voters, to me is 'The Wizard of Oz,' which I'm truly shocked didn't sneak in over 'Singin' in the Rain.' Maybe too many TV airings and too much tacky licensed merchandise has taken some of the shine off of 'Oz?' It remains my 'desert island' movie, since it has a little bit of everything. It's funny, scary, charming, and thrilling, with great songs and still-breathtaking art direction. Is it the scholarly choice? Don't know; don't care. I adore it, and it deserves a place amongst the top ten."
"The film that is certainly missing from this list (so much so that I had to double-check and make sure I didn't just overlook it) is 'Casablanca.' It is, at the end of the day, the greatest movie ever made. It has something for everybody: thrills, intrigue, romance, comedy, music, nobility, iconic imagery and it still holds up. Sure, nearly every line it is famous by now, but 'Casablanca' is no nostalgia act. It makes me want to stick my neck out for people. Now, what to cut? I adore '8 1/2,' and it is intensely watchable -- the photography is remarkable and there are so many great scenes -- but is it that 'important' of a movie? Despite it being tremendous fun, it is a little too naval-gazing for a canonical list like this, right? However, let's be real: the one to cut is 'Tokyo Story.' Maybe because I'm consumed with parental guilt and don't like thinking about it."
"There's no winning here so I will remove 'Singin' in the Rain' because it's #10 in this arbitrary list of great movies. I'd replace it with 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,' not only because it is a personal favorite masterpieces amongst the many masterpieces of The Archers but mostly because it's my personal favorite masterpiece amongst their many masterpieces. We need more Powell and Pressburger love from critics in general."
"How do you argue against any of those films? I still need to see 'Rules of the Game' -- remember that other Criticwire Survey? -- so I can't make a case for or against it. But of the other nine, I'd feel pretty comfortable replacing the Ozu with another Japanese great: Akira Kurosawa's 'Rashomon.' The groundbreaking non-linear structure has been so influential, and it's a powerful meditation on the subjective nature of truth that also explores some of our most fundamental and challenging existential questions."
"I'd take out 'Vertigo.' It's a wonderful thriller viewed on its own terms but does not command the same aesthetic or cultural importance of the other films on this list -- nor is it Hitchcock's best movie. To replace it, I'd pick one of two Chaplin movies, either 'The Gold Rush' or 'City Lights,' because Chaplin was one of the first artists to embody the essence of cinema both in front of the camera and behind it, as these two powerful, hilarious masterpieces prove."
"The first problem is not about which movies to consider, but what exactly should the Sound & Sight list represent. In figuring out what I would remove, I tried to look at the influence of many of the films, and especially shots from films I could recognize in other filmmakers' works. 'Citizen Kane' had its deep focus, 'Vertigo' used dazzling subjective shots, 'The Godfather' made high art use of genre, '2001' was meticulous crafted and designed, '8 1/2' explored the personal through illogical fantasy, and so on. The ones that stood out for me based on this premise were 'Sunrise' and 'Singin’ in the Rain.' Now these aren’t just great films; they are flat-out masterpieces. But I’m having trouble recalling much in terms of specific shots (maybe the dream sequence shot through traffic in 'Sunrise') than in the films I’m about to mention, which have elements I’ve seen repeated over and over in contemporary cinema. First up is John Ford’s 'The Searchers.' Even those who have issues with the script (which is highly misunderstood in its exploration of racism), one can’t deny the pure visual storytelling that manages to be both majestic as well as extremely personal. Often I feel like I see more dramas that use similar compositions to 'The Searchers' than I do in action films today. My other choice is Chantel Akerman’s 'Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.' I only saw this film for the first time last month, but I recognize it so clearly as a film with such a strong influence, even if there were “slow” films before. Today, so many of the world’s greatest filmmakers are working in the vein of 'slow cinema.' I don’t think 'Jeanne Dielman' is the best of these, or even the most accessible, but it demonstrates something essential: how to build its own language and use that to tell its narrative."
"I would take out 'The Godfather Parts I and II' because that is cheating: You can't put two movies in one spot, even if you want to. WHAT ARE WE, SAVAGES? I would replace it with 'The Godfather.'"
"I'm that awful human being that doesn't love Francis Ford Coppola's 'Godfather' trilogy in the same way that most do, so I'd remove the two-fer of 'The Godfather Parts I and II.' Much like 'The Rules of the Game' and 'Sunrise,' they're films that I appreciate more than I outright enjoy, but they don't give me the same sort of artistic appreciation that these other works do, so my apologies to Coppola (who won't likely be sending me any of his wine anytime soon), but his films is an offer I'd be able to refuse...sorry for the pun. As for what to replace it with, I have to go with my favorite film of all time: 'The Shawshank Redemption.' It's everything that you go to the movies for, and if it's not quite as historical a film, it more than makes up for it with quality. Perhaps not a highbrow enough pick for some, but it's the most honest choice that I can make."
"There are so many ways I could answer this question. As tempted as I am to pick something like 'Modern Times,' 'The Third Man,' or even my beloved 'Star Wars,' I'm going to go with something I suspect will be a little more unconventional. I'll remove 'Vertigo' (simply because I prefer some of Hitchcock's other films) and replace it with Spike Lee's masterpiece, 'Do the Right Thing.' This is a movie that does everything a great film should do. It's extremely entertaining, it's made with impeccable artistry, and it leaves a permanent impression on anyone who sees it. Lee made a picture that takes on a societal issue, then argues passionately for its point of view on that issue. Even now, over twenty years later, 'Do the Right Thing' is a vital, important work that packs an undeniable punch. Plus, how can you not love those opening credits, with Rosie Perez dancing to Public Enemy?"
"Such a tough question. According to the new rules, I believe 'Godfather I & II' would now count as two separate films so I would remove them both and substitute 'Apocalypse Now,' my all time favorite film and, in my opinion, Coppola’s best. When it comes to a films construction, both 'Godfather's are expertly crafted and thoughtfully executed. 'Apocalypse Now,' however, has a level of madness in its construction that is both deliberate and a result of the film's legendarily surreal shoot. It all comes together perfectly, and the good and evil is not as black and white as it is in the 'Godfather' films."
"Were I forced to remove one of Sight and Sound's top ten, I'd dispatch '8 1/2' and replace it with either Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' or -- since Kubrick already has '2001' on the list - Terrence Malick's 'Days of Heaven,' whose formal brilliance and piercing melancholy far outshine Fellini's kaleidoscopic autobiographical cleverness."
"Tough question, not so much because of the adding-part (more on that below), but because of the deletion. I can look at that top ten and quite easily zero in on '8 1/2' as the film that strikes me as the least rewarding from a contemporary standpoint. Fellini's bourgeois male subjectivism hasn't aged all that well, particularly in comparison to the more materialist efforts of Rossellini or even the undervalued classicism of de Sica. But one always looks like a poseur or a hipster wannabe when taking down an artistic giant, particularly in a few glib sentences. It would take at least a 50 page article to adequately articulate why '8 1/2' isn't one of the ten greatest films ever made, but perhaps we can agree that, in terms of the general tenor of advanced filmmaking today -- in Austria, in Portugal, across Asia, and arguably even in much of Italy -- a clinical objectivity counts for more than randy reflexivity. For better or worse. And for the record, I would replace '8 1/2' with Michael Snow's 'Wavelength.' I suppose it's swapping one kind of interior with another, but Snow's feels far more universal, therefore more pertinent."
"The 2002 critic's poll has made this question easy on me, since it did not include 'The Searchers' for the first time since 1972. My favorite Ford is generally the last one I've seen (right now that would be 'How Green Was My Valley'), but 'The Searchers' remains the most influential, so I'll stick with it. It's an easy decision to swap out the amusing but slight '8 1/2' for it. I would also love to remove 'The Godfather' for 'Ordet,' but that's another discussion."
"I would take out 'Battleship Potemkin' simply because it's the oldest, least resonant film on the list. It's more like an artifact than a work of art. Along similar lines, I think 'Potemkin''s replacement should be newer than than 'The Godfather Part 2.' With a release date of 1974, it is the list's most recent film. So, what is the greatest film since 1974? I would choose 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' Steven Spielberg is one of the great modern filmmakers, and 'Raiders' is my favorite of his. The Sight & Sound poll could use an iconic hero.
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on April 30, 2012:
The Most Popular Response: "The Cabin in the Woods," "Sound of My Voice" (tie)
Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes: "The Deep Blue Sea," "The Kid With a Bike."