Monday, August 6, 2012

If I Had A Sight & Sound Top Ten Film Ballot ...

... it would mean two things: (1) that the apocalypse is upon us in which case I've got more pressing things to do than make top ten lists, and (2) the Sight & Sound top ten movies list is even more random and meaningless that I had presupposed.

If you don't know what the Sight & Sound top ten list is, odds are you have a life, but if you're reading this blog post, obviously it's not much of one. Once a decade for the last seventy years or so, Sight & Sound magazine has polled directors and critics to put together a list of the ten best movies of all time. Citizen Kane topped that list for fifty years running. This year Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo edged it out for the top spot.

Now here's the thing about the top ten list: it's a knowing compromise and probably doesn't reflect the personal top ten lists of anybody voting in it. As Roger Ebert points out, if you want to see your favorite director on the list, you have to vote for the one movie that has emerged among the voters as that director's best. Thus, even though Ebert prefers La Dolce Vita among Fellini's films, he votes for because that's Fellini's go-to movie among critics. See what I mean?

So if I were actually voting, I'd probably come up with something totally different. But I'm not voting. I'm making a top ten list for the sort of people who read my blog—Who Am Us, Mister Muleboy, Katie-Bar-The-Door, my brothers. Also, I have to knock it out before lunch because this afternoon I'm finishing up a review of Mary Pickford's Daddy-Long-Legs then I'm going to spend the rest of the week working on something other than my blog.

You know, unless I win another Liebster Blog Award.

Okay, so you're all at my house, somebody put a gun to my head and said I have to show you ten movies. Are they the ten best of all time? I don't know. But you'll either leave having had a rousing good time or hating my guts. Or given my anti-social grumpiness, possibly both.

10. It's A Wonderful Life—You know, Buddha once pointed out that man's craving for the ephemeral—wealth, power, fame—is the root cause of his suffering; Jimmy Stewart gives the performance of his very great career as George Bailey, a small-town banker who takes a lifetime and one suicidal evening to learn this bitter lesson. Often dismissed as well-made Capra Corn, It's A Wonderful Life is actually a dark meditation on the emptiness of the American Dream. It's also warm, funny and wistfully sad, much like the holiday season with which it's most associated.

9. Gone With The Wind—For reasons not entirely related to the quality of the movie itself, I've seen this one eight times in a theater. Eight. A personal record. But it is one of the greatest romances ever made and is a cultural touchstone, in America at least. Is its depiction of racial politics in the South accurate? Lord, no. But as I wrote once before, "[Gone With The Wind] never purports to explain the war or its aftermath except in terms of their colossal inconvenience to Scarlett O'Hara. If she could have bedded Ashley Wilkes by freeing all the slaves she would have done it, and if she could have bedded him without freeing any slave she would have done that. Everything else is irrelevant."

8. Duck Soup—You might prefer A Night at the Opera (Katie-Bar-The-Door does), but personally, I think the Marx Brothers were never better than they were in Duck Soup. Simultaneously more streamlined, more disciplined and yet more anarchic than any other film they made, this is my (admittedly, highly personal) pick as the funniest sound picture ever made.

7. North by Northwest—Let's kill two birds with one stone: Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant. North by Northwest is one of Hitchcock's best suspense thrillers with some of the most exciting set pieces of his career. It's also the story of a shallow ad man (Grant at his best) who learns the hard way the consequences of the expedient lie, and in the process discovers he actually gives a damn. If you don't like Hitchcock and/or Cary Grant, you probably won't enjoy watching movies at my house. Go home. No hard feelings. Come back tomorrow.

6. Rio Bravo—I do believe Sight & Sound picked The Searchers as the best western of all time and they're probably right. But Quentin Tarantino and I prefer Rio Bravo, Howard Hawks' classic western starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan and a girl with a flowerpot. Ostensibly the taut story of a small band of lawmen besieged by the rich and violently powerful, Rio Bravo is really a buddy comedy about a sheriff, a cripple and a drunk, and Katie-Bar-The-Door and I have seen it so many times, we could probably perform the whole thing as your after-dinner entertainment. Note: Katie looks much better in tights than I do.

5. Seven Samurai—One could argue that from Akira Kurosawa all action movies flow. His movies are so good even the remakes of his movies are good. You like the classic western The Magnificent Seven starring Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen? That's a remake of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Prefer Clint Eastwood in A Fistful Of Dollars? That's Yojimbo. And if you've ever plopped yourself down in front of a little ditty we like to call Star Wars—well, that's The Hidden Fortress. With Rashomon, Ikiru and Ran also to choose from, I think Seven Samurai is his best.

4. Singin' in the Rain—From beginning to end, the best musical of all time. I admit, as I get older, I prefer Astaire and Rogers as a dance team—when I watch them together, I reconsider the possibility that there might be a heaven after all—but Singin' in the Rain is a flawless blend of singing, dancing, comedy and romance, not to mention a pretty insightful look at the earliest age of movie history. As the song says, "What a glorious feeling!"

3. The General—My favorite Buster Keaton, my favorite silent movie, the one I'd show you, along with Chaplin in The Gold Rush, to convince you that you too can safely watch a silent movie. Heck, you've probably seen The Artist by now anyway. Treat yourself and see a truly great silent movie.

2. Citizen Kane—I won an award last year (with actual prizes) explaining why Citizen Kane is worthy of its status as the best movie of all time (read all about it here). Kane has slipped to two on Sight & Sound's all-time list. It slips on mine, too. But it's still great!

1. Casablanca—I don't know what you're hoping to see when you go to the movies, but when I go, I'm hoping to see Casablanca, or something like it: funny, romantic, adventurous, dramatic, quotable and so memorable you walk out of the theater saying, "Wow!" I said the other day I wanted to be Robert Mitchum in The Big Steal. Well, forget that. I want to be Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. And so does everybody else.

Anyway, it's a very mainstream list that skews rather old, now that I look at it. But let's face it, I'm a very mainstream guy who also skews rather old, especially if you look at me. What do you want for nothing—rubber biscuit?

Tomorrow: Take two on this same list.

P.S. Want to share your own top ten list? Leave it here as a comment or leave a link to your own blog post. We at the Monkey are interested in you!


Erik Beck said...

To be fair to Sight and Sound, it seems a lot of lists end up like that. I am amazed at how often I look at a list, whether it be books or albums or films, and they seem to try to make use of that 1 artist rule. I could tell with Ebert's first Great Movies book that he was trying to get in as many directors as possible. That's perhaps why he called it Great Movies - it wasn't necessarily his Top 100, but films he couldn't do without. Of the 100 films in the book, only 4 directors have more than 2 - Bunuel, Hawks, Hitchcock and Wilder (who has 4).

It's very understandable and on the current Top 100 Novels list I have been working on, I get crap from people who know that Joyce, Faulkner and Dostoevsky will appear more than once in the Top 12 - but that's how highly I think of those works and I'm unwilling to ding one and move up something else if I'm going for what I feel is the definitive 100. But I don't have to worry about other people voting. I'm sure there were people who voted for Forrest Gump in 1994, not because they thought it was the best film, but because they didn't want Pulp Fiction to win (first example that came to mind).

All that being said, if I had a vote, this is what I would have voted for, no matter what other people would have voted for. Granted, this list is fluid and changes from time to time. But this is what it is today.

#10 - Grand Illusion (1937, Jean Renoir)

#9 - Touch of Evil (1958, Orson Welles)

#8 - The Seventh Seal (1957, Ingmar Bergman)

#7 - Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)

#6 - Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski)

#5 - The Godfather (1972, Francis Coppola)

#4 - Rashomon (1950, Akira Kurosawa)

#3 - Children of Paradise (1945, Marcel Carne)

#2 - The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming)

#1 - Sunset Boulevard (1950, Billy Wilder)

So I've got two Welles films. And my #11 is another Bergman - Cries and Whispers.

So, in a sense, not much different from you. The latest of them, Chinatown, was released four months before I was born.

Mythical Monkey said...

That's a great list. I came up with an initial list of about fifty films, almost just off the top of my head, and I think all of those were on there.

That's the thing about top ten lists -- for real film fans, they should be top 100 lists, or even top 200 lists, and don't even both to rank them, just list them alphabetically or chronologically. Because on any given day, my top 10 list would be different, just based on what I was in the mood to see.

mister muleboy said...

I just love to share.
Here are today's thoughts on today's Top Ten:

(10) The Quiet Man. I have a hard time including any John Ford movie on any Top Ten list [because of his unforgivable Mister Roberts], but this thing is great top to bottom. I sat in the AFI Silver theater with a laughing Monkey, amazed at the depth and ease of the cinematography. And that John Wayne. . . .

(9) Casablanca. As I have often told the Monkey, I was unable to watch this movie when I approached it as a classic or as a romance. When I approached it as a comedy -- and a buddy comedy at that -- it moved into my Top Ten. As a comedy. And a drama. And a romance. And a thiller. And a classic.

(8) Barbara Broadcast I'm not sure if this is even his best film -- but I couldn't let Radley Metzger go unnoticed. Following the theme of rewarding a great director with just one of his films, I have to go with this one. Balancing this cast, and the themes explored in the movie, was a challenge. As was staying out of jail. . . .

[sorry, Anthony Spinelli]

(7) Rio Bravo. What the Monkey said. In spades. Plus, I sat in the AFI Silver with Lupner watching a perfect print, marveling at a time that moviemakers cared about film. You know, the celluloid spooled in front of a shutter, and all the things that matter to that celluloid.

(6) Groundhog Day. One of the greatest movies ever made. Everything in life in under two hours.

(5) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Painfully funny. Stitches. Sides hurt. Can be watched at AFI Silver on the big screen, or on the Idiot Box.
I love Sellers, but you can have him. Okay, well, I'll keep him for "Dmitri. . . ." and for "Strange thing is they make such bloody good cameras." But gimme George C. Scott. Tops, baby: "I told you never to call me here, don't you know where I am?... Well look, baby, I c-, I *can't* talk to you now... my president needs me!..." or "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks. ." Or how about "If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!"

Now tell me you don't want to go see this movie right the fuck now. . . .

(4) The Apartment. I couldn't get this movie at all, trying to watch it by myself on a TV screen. It escaped me, and it had Lemmon. I was never gonna get it. Until I watched it in the Monkey Cave. I laughed and I cried. When I later saw it at the AFI Silver on glorious black-and-white on the big screen, I realized that this is The Great Gatsby with good people.

(3) Patton. What a piece of shit. But Coppolla's best work, and maybe Scott's. And how could a movie with "Rommell. . . you magnificent BAStard. I READ YOUR BOOK !!" not be in the Top Ten?

(2) National Lampoon's Animal House Fuck La R ├Ęgle de Jeu -- *this* movie explains everything there is to know about class, status, the bourgeoisie, and masturbating women. It changed the lives of millions of Americans. And I lived it for nine years, with a certain Monkey, in a setting not unlike college. . . .


(1) Kelly's Heroes. Simply The Greatest Movie of All Times. & #153;

Mythical Monkey said...

National Lampoon's Animal House

Featuring two of the greatest lines in movie history:

"You f#cked up, you trusted us!"


"Will that work?"
"It's gotta work better than the truth."

Pretty much a blueprint for living in the corporate world.

Uncle Tom said...

you should trust the Monkey - he's pre-med

and just think, we all thought he was brain damaged

Actually I agree with your list and that maybe the best description I've ever read of both GWTW and Casablanca

Mythical Monkey said...

Actually I agree with your list and that maybe the best description I've ever read of both GWTW and Casablanca

Let's face it, I'm a genius! It's a burden, but what can you do?

"With great power comes great responsibility." -- either Spiderman or Mussolini, I forget which ...