Anticipation for Sight and Sound‘s lauded and highly debated Greatest Films of All-Time list is mounting. Once every decade, the venerable British film magazine polls assorted film critics, theorists, scholars and historians, as well as noted film directors, asking them to perform a simple task: select the ten greatest films ever made.
No “greatest film” list can ever represent any final word on such a subject, but the Sight and Sound poll is seen as something of an authority. This is probably because the caliber of the individuals polled is extremely high: From Peter Wollen to Jonathan Rosenbaum to Slavoj Zizek to Gilles Jacob—to put it bluntly, these people know what the fuck they’re talking about.
Only occasionally do I know what the fuck I’m talking. That said, that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. So in a world where J. Hoberman and I are considered colleagues, here’s the list I’d submit to Sight and Sound. Some are personal favorites of mine—ones I believe I can make a case for—while others are no-brainers: Films I and many others sincerely regard as the greatest ever made. Brief explanations follow.
1. La Règle du jeu (Renoir, ’39): I mean, if I have to explain…
2. L’Atalante (Vigo, ’34): Ditto.
3. The Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, ’29): The first film to fully encapsulate what makes cinema the ultimate art.
4. Rear Window (Hitchcock, ’54): Most will point to Vertigo, but for me, Rear Window is Hitchcock at his most imagistic, formalistic, and essayistic. Unparalleled.
5. Playime (Tati, ’67): Some are postulating that this film will be the newest entry to the list, and for good reason. It’s the greatest “3-D” film ever made.
6. Sunrise (Murnau, ’27): Dave Kehr called it the “greatest foreign film ever made in American.” Pretty much sums it up.
7. Monsieur Verdoux (Chaplin, ’47): Grossly misunderstood. Grossly underrated. An elegant gesture from one of the greatest film artists in the twilight of his career.
8. King Lear (Godard, ’87): It’s Godard’s greatest film, meaning it has to be one of the greatest films of all time, right? Look at me—I’m using logic!
9. The Shining (Kubrick, ’80): Kubrick never made a film so personal. It’s so endlessly enigmatic that it gave us this film, which tells me that, in addition to being first-rate genre cinema, it can also eventually teach us a thing or two about the nuances of filmic interpretation.
10. Late Spring (Ozu, ’49): Because I reckon I need at least one Ozu on here, and this is the one I keep coming back to.
Reflecting on this list, I realize what a fool’s game it is. No matter what, you’re always working with a limited scope. For example, I personally consider it a travesty that I have nothing from Bresson, Ford, Mizoguchi, Dreyer or Welles on here. But if I did, that’d mean possibly leaving off the likes of Ozu, Renoir, Vigo, Godard and Hitchcock, which would also be a shame. I’m irritated by it, and it’s my own list.
This is silly. I kind of regret doing it. Oh, well.