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Top Ten List of All Time: Sight and Sound Critics' List Deadline Extended to May 21

by Anne Thompson
May 21, 2012 11:30 AM
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'I Know Where I'm Going'
'I Know Where I'm Going'

Sunday night at the Grand (inside the bar, thanks to the deluge), I had a blast comparing top ten list notes with Lizzie Frankie of BFI Productions and John Cooper of the Sundance Film Festival. Sight and Sound's once-a-decade top ten list has inspired some great dinner conversation over the past week in Cannes as folks refine their final choices. Which Hitchcock? Which Welles? "Citizen Kane" has led the list for decades. Will it still be number one? The deadline was extended until today. TOH's Matt Brennan has already weighed in. Here's my final list.

It's a refinement of the list I've carried in my head since NYU Cinema Studies. And I might add that playing Flickchart, a diabolically addictive site that forces you to choose between films across the decades, has reminded me of how my tastes have changed. How many films would I be willing to rank above "Lawrence of Arabia"? Damned few. Here's my Flickchart Top Ten of All Time--an equally valid list. (It's an algorithm based on which films they throw at you.)

Movies that used to be on my top ten that are now in my top 20 include 11. Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious," 12. Buster Keaton's "The General," 13. Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane," and 14. George Stevens' "Swingtime." Somehow, as much as I love Astaire/Rogers, "Meet Me in St. Louis" feels right as the best musical ever made. And under-appreciated Sam Peckinpah gets one western slot with "The Wild Bunch"; John Ford's "Rio Grande" gets the other.

One could think in terms of which movie from any given director is most likely to be on everyone else's top ten to push certain titles up the list. I did not consider this at all.

I recently watched Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" on Blu-ray, and it now replaces "2001: A Space Odyssey."

I include two classic romantic comedies, from Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks, who sadly seems to be falling from favor among critics. As for my new number one, I'm highlighting Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger'sblack-and-white romance "I Know Where I'm Going," starring Roger Livesey as a Scottish Laird and Wendy Hiller as a young woman of ambition who is determined to marry a rich businessman--if she can cross the storm-tossed water to reach him. She thinks she knows what she wants, but nature and strong ties to the earth prove more powerful than her careerist desires. See it.

And where are the women directors? Well...Gillian Armstrong's "High Tide," Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" and Jane Campion's "The Piano" are farther down my list.

1. "I Know Where I'm Going" (Powell)

2. "Lawrence of Arabia" (Lean)

3. "High and Low" (Kurosawa)

4. "Rio Grande" (Ford)

5. "The Lady Eve" (Sturges)

6. "Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)

7. "The Apartment" (Wilder)

8. "The Wild Bunch" (Peckinpah)

9. "Meet Me in St. Louis" (Minnelli)

10. "A Clockwork Orange" (Kubrick)

Trailers for the top ten below:

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More: Lists, Classics


  • Tulkinghorn | May 23, 2012 2:58 PMReply

    Conveniently for the following analysis, you haven't put any silent pictures on the list....

    The most recent film on your list -- Clockwork Orange -- was a 1971 release. 42 years between that and 1929, the effective beginning of the sound era and 41 years between that and now..

    Not a single top ten movie made in the entire second half of the history of the sound film? Really? Why is that?

  • Brian | May 23, 2012 11:47 AMReply

    The only one I've never seen on your list is I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING. You caused me to raise my eyebrows over your Ford and Hawks choices. RIO GRANDE and BRINGING UP BABY are interesting films but pale next to Ford's five best (GRAPES OF WRATH, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, FORT APACHE, THE SEARCHERS, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE) and Hawks' best (ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, RED RIVER, RIO BRAVO). But those are the only ones I'd quibble about.

    My own top ten (best as opposed to favorites)? Let's see, off the top of my head, based on what's going through my head now, in chronological order:


    (I was about to click "submit" when I remembered KING KONG, so I took off THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.)

  • bob hawk | May 26, 2012 3:33 AM

    Thanks, Brian. I can see clearly now . . .

  • Brian | May 24, 2012 12:42 PM

    Re-read my post, Bob. I made it clear that "your Ford and Hawks choices" referred to "Rio Grande" and "Bringing Up Baby," i.e. Ford="Rio Grande" and Hawks="Bringing Up Baby," hence "your Ford and Hawks choices." Maybe I should have punctuated it with..."respectively"?

  • bob hawk | May 24, 2012 3:14 AM

    RIO GRANDE is a Ford, not a Hawks. If I had to pick one Ford it would be THE SEARCHERS.

  • Jeff | May 23, 2012 9:36 AMReply

    I'd choose "His Girl Friday" over "Bringing Up Baby," but this is an excellent list. And "The Lady Eve" should be on everyone's top ten.

  • Tom Brueggemann | May 23, 2012 11:09 AM

    For me, there are four Hawks films that I considered for a slot before going with "Rio Bravo" - the other three were "Bringing Up Baby," "Only Angels Have Wings" and "Scarface." I love "His Girl Friday" (and other of his films), but for me doesn't quite reach the heights of his greatest work.
    No other director achieved as much greatness in as wide a range of genres as Hawks.
    Not having a Sturges film on mine is also painful (along with no Godard, no Keaton, no Welles, no Sternberg - "Shanghai Express" is perfection - no Borzage among others), but "The Lady Eve" would certainly be a worthy choice.

  • Anne Thompson | May 22, 2012 7:54 PMReply

    how do you narrow it to ten? I have so many films that I left off. And I put two westerns on at the expense of other things. And several romances. I would put 'The Battle of Algiers' on in a second. But how many folks are including Hitchcock and Welles. Maybe they don't need my help.

    I am feeling very guilty about Renoir. And Keaton. And more.

  • sergio | May 22, 2012 6:29 PMReply

    Interesting. Usually someone always list one or a few really obscure and little seen foreign films basically to impress readers and make them feel out of the loop. Your list is pretty accessible. But I notice no films made past 1971. But then again I don't blame you. Now I guess I have to start thinking of a list. But I agree with Matt... somewhat. I LOVE Battle of Algiers and it would definitely be on my list. At No. 1

  • Bill Desowitz | May 22, 2012 10:46 AMReply

    "I Know Where I'm Going" is a daringly romantic #1 choice. My all-time list? Today? Bicycle Thieves, Grand Illusion, Sunrise, Lawrence of Arabia, The Red Shoes, The Godfather, Notorious, How Green Was My Valley, The Shop Around the Corner, Double Indemnity.

  • Matt Brennan | May 21, 2012 5:06 PMReply

    I'll have to check out the Powell, that's the only one of yours I've never seen. And the more I see it, the more I'm convinced of the Minnelli over "Singin' in the Rain."

    On the Hawks question, I think it illuminates the difference between talking about a particular film and an entire body of work. While "Baby" is in my number 11 spot (and it hurt me to leave it off), Hawks would easily make my list of top ten directors, probably quite high up — he was so versatile AND impeccable. And "Battle of Algiers" is to me the best of all war films, but Pontecorvo probably wouldn't even crack my top twenty. I love the parlor-game aspect of this kind of debate.

  • bob hawk | May 23, 2012 1:45 AM

    Matt: Appreciate your bringing up "the difference between talking about a particular film and an entire body of work." And interestingly enough, all of the directors represented on Anne's list could be serious candidates for a body-of-work list. Still, it's excruciating and impossible to narrow down to ten directors, which (using Anne's list) would leave off (among many others in my admittedly subjective, personal list) Bergman, Bresson, Cassavetes, Chaplin, Coppola, Eisenstein, Fellini, Herzog, Hitchcock, Huston, Kazan, Keaton, Kieslowski, Lang, Lumet, Murnau, Ozu, Renoir, Ritt, Scorsese, Stevens, Tarkovsky, Truffaut, Wyler, Zinnemann, etc., etc. And that's not even beginning to acknowledge the extraordinary crop of filmmakers that began to emerge in the latter part of the last century. (Oy! Arrgh!) But anybody's list is of value if it leads someone to discover and explore the works of someone they were not previously aware of. Lists are fun and lists are folly.

  • Tom Brueggemann | May 21, 2012 2:47 PMReply

    Rules of the Game (Renoir)
    Vertigo (Hitchcock)
    Sunrise (Murnau)
    Tokyo Story (Ozu)
    Voyage to Italy (Rossellini)
    M (Lang)
    Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford)
    Rio Bravo (Hawks)
    Au hasard Balthazar (Bresson)
    Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi)

  • Beth Hanna | May 21, 2012 12:51 PMReply

    Recently watched "I Know Where I'm Going!" for the first time and absolutely loved it. Powell and Pressburger for the win! "Black Narcissus" is easily in my all-time Top 10.

  • Jazz4111 | May 21, 2012 12:30 PMReply

    Can't resist: 1) Les Enfants Du Paradis 2)Woman in the Dunes 3) Witness for the Prosecution 4) The Philadelphia Story 5) Cabaret 6) Paths of Glory 7) How Green Was My Valley 8) Elvira Madigan 9) The Apartment 10) Laws of Gravity

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