Since I’m not really a paid Film critic by any associations or whatever organization, I wouldn’t refuse any offer by the way, I haven’t been asked to submit a list of ten films that are categorized as the greatest films of all time. However, just like any other film buff out there, well most of us, I love making lists of any kind.
The first time I ever made a list of the ten best films of all time it was back in 2005 for Kevyn Knox’s Top 10 project at his now almost defunct website The Cinematheque (now replaced by his cinephile niche The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World). This list included; 1. Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick) 2. Taxi Driver (Scorsese) 3. Apocalypse Now (Coppola) 4. Pulp Fiction (Tarantino) 5. Modern Time (Chaplin) 6. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa) 7. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Leone) 8. Blade Runner (Scott) 9. Sunset Blvd. (Wilder) 10. Mystic River (Eastwood).
Looking back at the list(s) of 2002 (the (s) refers to the fact that it was the first time that there were two different lists) one from the critics and the other from directors. The results were quite the same. Both lists named Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all-time. Since 1952, Kane as been in the top spot every time except in 1952 when Bicycle Thieves was number one. Another difference is the choice of the critics for Ozu’s Tokyo Story instead of the directors choice for Kurosawa’s Rashomon. Both films are Japanese masterpieces of the 1950’s and it is quite obvious that Kurosawa is a director’s director. The critics preferred Murnau’s Sunrise and Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin two classic choices for for its textbook study of the possibilities of cinematic narratives and the other one for its superb achievement of Silent film sensibility and storytelling. On the other side Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves earned their spot of the list. It is also interesting to see that the directors preferred Dr. Strangelove over Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The tie at the ninth place let Raging Bull and Seven Samurai earned also a spot on the director’s side.
Those are all canons of Cinema, and it leads me to my so-called rules of selection. First, I must choose only one film per director. Since there are only ten spots available I won’t put all Vigo’s films. I would have had some free spots but you understand the whole thing I’m pretty sure. Second, A least one film per country that has had a major impact on the films of today. Example, Japan, France, Germany, Italy*, Sweden, United Kingdom should all have at least one entry. A silent film, because without Silent films there is no Cinema at all. Last but not least, produce a list that I should be able to sleep right with my choices for the next ten years. Those rules may seem to reduce my possibilities. But it is, in fact, a way to include a most interesting selection and not list the same titles over and over again.
Choosing only one Stanley Kubrick film is one of the hardest choices I ever had to do considering that in my first two lists of the same kind his Dr. Strangelove was my number one. However, this satire of the Cold War is still one of my favorite film just like 2001 and the rest of his oeuvre. But with The Shining, Kubrick made a Freudian multi-layered Horror Symphony that ranks amongst one of the films I could watch over and over again. The cinematography and the storytelling is just pitch-perfect. I love this film and I am more than sure that it will be in my list for a long time. It would have been a good push into the Kubrick wagon to take one of the aforementioned films but I had to go with the film that influenced hundreds if not thousands of followers and imitators.
It would have been obvious to try to vote for Ford’s entry in the Top 10 with a vote for The Searchers (1956), a film I agree on every praise about it, but like Kubrick above, The Man represents everything I love about Ford’s cinema and how I feel about his Westerns. When someone asks me for a Western recommendation I always pick this one. It got John Wayne, James Stewart, Lee Marvin as the bandit Liberty Valance and it is directed by the best Western director of all time John Ford. He didn’t hold the record of Directing Oscars for any other reason than he is the representation and influence of the great classic American director.
When I wrote down the rule of one film per country that managed to influence our vision of films today I wasn’t even thinking of any filmmaker in particular. In fact, I thought about Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia but I didn’t even thought of The Archers. Well, I am ashamed to actually admit it. Then I had to face the dilemma between Black Narcissus (1946) and The Red Shoes. It is personally, the best they ever get to even if I still have some important ones from the Powell/Pressburger association to watch it is The Red Shoes that leads the path. Just like Scorsese said: it is one of the most beautiful Technicolor of all time. Everything is vibrant and I hope this film will raise its way upper in the upcoming poll.
Being a huge fan of Bergman’s work I had the uneasy choice of choosing between many of his films; Wild Strawberries (1957), The Seventh Seal (1957), Persona (1966) Cries and Whispers (1971), and The Magician (1958) were all close ones. Even if the man almost never made a bad film, and boy did he have a wide corpus, I had to pick Fanny and Alexander. Why? It is one of the most autobiographical films Bergman ever made and his wonderful use of colors, the superb cinematography of Sven Nykvist, the Shakespearean references and the epic grandeur of it all does it for me. Moreover, it was supposed to be Bergman’s will to us.
Murnau stands with Griffith, Eisenstein, and Chaplin as the first masters. Many would cite Sunrise (1927) as Murnau’s masterpiece. To me, it always have been Nosferatu that represented German Expressionism and the German film Industry of the 1920’s and 1930’s. This is the first Silent film I ever watched and it printed a indelible impression in my memory ever since. It is so important that I even let Fritz Lang’s M (1931) out of the list to include it.
5. La Règle du jeu (Jean Renoir, 1939)
When looking back at my picks I promised myself to include a Jean Renoir film. It was a close call between La Règle du Jeu and The River. It was mandatory that I have a spot for French films and even more for Renoir. My pick here is a choice I made with my heart and not my head, well my head was in complete peace with it. But Renoir’s films are visceral and they are pure cinematic bliss. Every time I watch La Règle du jeu I rediscover the film’s depth and perfection. A potential number one in this list.
4. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
The Japan film, well it was a not so obvious choice here for me. Having loved too many of Kurosawa’s films to only list one I almost decided to exclude him from the selection and include Ozu’s Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice (1952). The Ozu pick might seem a little outside of the box and lesser known but it is the representation of Ozu’s greatest work. This is not taking down Tokyo Story or Late Spring but just a love letter to a oft overlooked film. However, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai has had so much influence on the films that followed it that it is a crime to not list it here. Yes a crime. The place of this film is epic and it deserves its spot.
Keaton or Chaplin one of the most famous cinephile’s dilemmas. Well, believe me I love Keaton and I think he was a real daredevil but I will always fall for Chaplin’s pathos, humanity, sensibility. With Modern Times (1936) I had a hard time choosing my favorite feature film. However, The Gold Rush is one of the first full feature directed by Chaplin. One of the most remarkable landmarks of the History of Cinema.
For a long time I struggled to put the finger on which Hitchcock picture I would choose to be his greatest and the one that also better represented his filmmaking summit. A career populated with so many masterpieces Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Birds, Psycho, Notorious, Shadow of A Doubt, isn’t easy to resume with only one entry. So with all my respect to the entire Hitchcock oeuvre I had to mark a X along Rear Window. It is the culmination of the commercial film meets the experimental film, the references to a man’s impotence (there is a strong rumour that Mr. Hitchcock was in fact attain by this sad state, it also explain his voyeuristic “deviance”), the audiences’ voyeur complex, and the restriction that Hitchcock always liked to impose to himself in his filmmaking.
That’s it, this is the final spot and also the number one and no Citizen Kane. Many critics like Marc Cassivi, for example, will throw tomatoes at me just because of this offense. With all my respect for Orson Welles, and everyone who knows me knows that I worship the guy, I don’t think that Kane was his best film. I will stick with my idea that The Trial (1962), just like Welles said himself, is his best movie. He had full control on the film and visually it is a way more stunning film, Welles doesn’t have a big part so his huge ego doesn’t takes all the space in the frame and the interpretation of Kafka’s novel is one of the best example of the adaptation of a written material on the big screen.
Taxi Driver is my Citizen Kane, it was the film that changed everything for me. After my first viewing I knew that it changed my perception of movies and that the effects they have on me won’t ever be the same again. It is the same thing every time I re-watch this Scorsese cornerstone. Since it did not made the list(s) in 2002 I don’t expect it to break into the final decade list like Raging Bull did back in 2002.
So that’s all folks! What would be your choices? Why? What do you think of the current list?
*The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1968)
As a side-note this movie should be on the list but after a torn apart decision I had to let it out of the list because the entries all made sense and I already listed a Western. Two of Leone’s major influences Kurosawa and Ford are listed and even if the Italian master deserves a spot on the list he didn’t made the cut.
Roger Ebert's The greatest films of all time
Roger Ebert's The greatest films of all time