Film Is For Old People

by John Holbo on August 7, 2012

A couple weeks back the LA Times ran an article about how ‘millenials’ don’t find it as strange as normal humans do that they rebooted Spider-Man so soon after making a perfectly good Spider-Man. (I haven’t seen the new one myself. I’ve heard it’s just fine.) On the other hand, the BFI’s 2012 “Sight & Sound” critics’ Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time poll is holding the line against this sort of amnesia. They prefer if people suffer from that condition the guy in Memento suffered from, approximately. (Maybe they should rename it: ‘of all times except recent ones’?)

I made a little chart, pushing my Excel chops to the limit. It shows number of films that made the Top 50, by year. (Yes, there’s nothing after 2001, you’re reading it right.)

I made a few other calculations, again using my bleeding edge Excel hacking skills.

The average (and the median and the mode) date for a film making the Top 50 critics cut is: 1960. (L’avventura, La dolce vita, Breathless, Psycho.) Strictly, it’s bimodal: 1966 was another good year, as the chart shows.

If we restrict ourselves to the Top 10, the results are even more antique:

2012
average 1947
median 1947
mode 1939

Let’s compare those results with past “Sound & Sight” poll results. This is not kosher, because they split out the director and critics’ polls in 2002. Also, although this year they were working from 846 Top 10 lists, in past years they had fewer data points. But what the hell, let’s do fake science!

1952
average 1933
median 1931
mode 1925/1948

1962
average 1942
median 1943
mode 1948

1972
average 1945
median 1942
mode 1942

1982
average 1947
median 1948
mode 1942

1992
average 1945
median 1947
mode n/a

2002
average 1950
median 1952
mode n/a

So, eyeballing: in 2012, these critics have fallen back, temporally, to about the point their ancestors were at in 1982. In a few centuries film critics will be wearing t-shirts that read: ‘I only like films that were made before film was invented.’ Or possibly, recoiling from that absurdity, critics will settle for asymtotic approach to the moment of film’s birth, after which it was all downhill.

What do you think?

Is it sufficient to say that film critics – like all conservatives – have to pick a Golden Age that is sufficiently far back in time that they can imaginatively confiscate it for themselves, in effect constituting themselves as elite appreciators of what others do not; but recent enough that it has some damn plausibility. (As in investment, being seriously too early is the same as being wrong.) The spikes we see on the graph are akin to the average conservative American’s sense that the 50’s and early-to-mid 60’s were pretty great; then it all went to hell and now things are desolate and bad. But there is also the outlying, more severe conservative view that we have to go back further to find anything good. Before 1929.

I’m also reminded of something that old adman Gossage wrote, about ‘the shape of an idea’: “Imagine that a person sits in the center of a circle that represents his comprehension. He can comprehend anything within the perimeter, but the farther it is from the center the fainter his ability to criticize it will be. However, anything outside the perimeter is beyond his comprehension; he won’t criticize an idea placed out there because he simply won’t know what you’re talking about. So the trick is to place an idea close enough in so he gets it but far enough out that he’s not able to flyspeck it, only accept it.” Would it be too unkind to suggest that critics probably pick their Top 10’s by analogous operation? (Obviously I’m just saying that critics are incorrigible hipsters and coolhunters of the past. Duh.)

On the other hand, maybe film was just better before Star Wars; George Lucas (and Spielberg) ruined everything forever.

I watched 8 1/2 on the plane, flying home to Singapore. It’s great! Or perhaps I am comparing it to Battleship, which I also watched. I’m thinking of grandfathering in 8 1/2 as science fiction, in my “Philosophy and Film” class, due to the fact that the director (Marcello Mastroianni’s Guido Anselmi character) is failing to make a big-budget sf film. What other classic films could be classified as sf on similarly strained grounds? I already include 2046 on similar grounds. (Something about number titles?) Regarding Battleship: someone really needs to make a big-budget Risk movie, give it the full-Verhoeven straight-face parody treatment, like Starship Troopers. The massive, epic battles for control of Australia and South America. The constant sweeps back and forth through Kamchatka-Alaska. Most of all, the massed armies on Madagascar. Now: what should the story be? Obviously boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-back-girl by holding Asia for an entire turn. (I realize I’m close to stealing Eddie Izzard’s material here.)

You know what I thought was a surprisingly good film I watched on the plane: The Lorax. My daughters both agree. Violet watched it three times.

UPDATE: comments are perking along great, please continue. One point that has been made that really amounts to a correction to the post is that it’s quite likely that the character of the final list is unlike the character of the individual lists that generated it. The individual lists probably contained many more recent films, but there was no consensus. Since the post has a complaining tone, since the complaint may be unjust, I hereby make update amends.

{ 165 comments }

1

John Edmond 08.07.12 at 6:01 am

Now you just have to go through the individual lists so we can know how much of the age bias is due to how long it takes for consensus to form*.

*I’d argue Vertigo is only there because it’s the one Hitchcock masterpiece with the right flaws to distinguish it, but not hinder it. Instead it’s an outsider film made by a consumate insider. Without Vertigo Hitchcock would probably have been Bressoned.

2

John Quiggin 08.07.12 at 6:07 am

I’ll buy the perimeter idea. I’ve never even heard of half the movies in the top 10, and I was keen on movies back when King Kong still longed for Fay Wray. And the fact that the top 50 list has four films by Godard and three by Tarkovsky certainly backs up “elite appreciators of what others do not”.

3

John Holbo 08.07.12 at 6:24 am

Oops, I just realized I lopped “La Jetee” (1962) from the tail end of the top 50. Doesn’t shift the needle but mentally add another 1962 point to the graph.

4

ajay 08.07.12 at 6:27 am

Compare the xkcd graph of favourite Christmas songs by year of release: “every year American media embarks on a massive project to recreate the childhood of the baby boomers”.

5

John Edmond 08.07.12 at 6:38 am

And I think it’s worth noting in regards to the “elite appreciators” theory is that if critics wanted their own elite fiefdom picking lauded contemporary filmmakers would have helped them even more. Art/slow/film festival cinema and popular cinema have diverged strongly since the rise of the blockbuster. Godard, Marker and Tarkovsky have nothing on Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Laz Diaz or Bela Tarr in terms of difficulty. Picking old films could be considered a form of politeness or solidarity with populist filmmaking, “look at our common ancestor, eeek eeek, eeek eeek!”

And then the critics would have looked more in touch (at least in regards to contemporary film festivals).

6

aepxc 08.07.12 at 7:18 am

People think the highest of the things they liked most when they were 15-25 (which, if you are a media critic is not something that was RELEASED when you were 15-25 as per your hipster/circular perimeter ideas). Strongest positive emotional associations as a result of hormones or something. It is this at the root of all “these damn kids today!” lamentations.

So I’m guessing that the average age of the prominent media critic has just been increasing from 1982.

7

Phil 08.07.12 at 7:36 am

JH – you can’t calculate a mean of calendar years. Please don’t.

I think John Edmond has it right – the later stretches of this list suggest that there is such a thing as “critics’ cinema”, not to be confused with what goes on at The Multiplex (boo!). Here are the directors who make the top 50, by decade since the 1950s:

1950s: Donen, Dreyer, Ford, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu, Ray, Rossellini, Truffaut, Wilder
1960s: Antonioni, Bergman, Bresson, Dreyer, Fellini, Godard, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Marker, Pontecorvo, Tarkovsky, Tati
1970s: Akerman, Coppola, Scorsese, Tarkovsky
1980s: Lanzmann
1990s: Godard, Kiarostami, Tarr
2000s: Lynch, Wong

The first thing that leaps out is that there’s a fair amount of “art-house” stuff in the golden years of the 1950s and 1960s. These aren’t Godardian levels of art-housery, but still; I’m sure Pather Panchali is an enjoyable film, but few people reading this will find it enjoyable in the same way as Some Like It Hot (with which it’s tied for 42nd place).

But as the historical pool drains, the art-housery clearly predominates; with the *possible* exception of Mulholland Dr., the latest film anyone who isn’t specifically into Film is likely to have seen is 1979’s Apocalypse Now.

JE @1 – at least Bresson is *there* (at 16). Whatever happened to Buñuel?

8

Phil 08.07.12 at 7:52 am

PS
(year of poll) – (median year of release of top 10), difference from previous median year, difference from median year in earliest top 10 looks like this:

1952: 21
1962: 19, +12
1972: 30, -1, +11
1982: 34, +6, +17
1992: 45, -1, +16
2002: 50, +5, +21
2012: 65, -5, +16

Up to about 1972 (median year: 1942) we could just about be looking at the teenage memory effect, but from 1982 on I think we’ve got a canon in place. In another ten years – when we’re all reading CT on our wrist-mounted 4d holo-screens while commuting on monorails – I suspect the median year will still be some time in the late and by then very distant 1940s.

9

garymar 08.07.12 at 7:54 am

I think aepxc hits it perfectly. You damn kids get out of my film archive!

It’s also the reason why all the bubble-gum pop songs of the mid-60s were (and are) indelibly engraved on my 13-year-old brain, even though I hated them.

10

John Edmond 08.07.12 at 8:05 am

@Phil True, Buñuelled would have been better.

11

Mark J. Lovas 08.07.12 at 8:10 am

@aepx: I don’t even remember what I used to like from 15- 25! And most of the movies I watched in the past three years certainly weren’t what I watched from 15-25.

12

Fred Cairns 08.07.12 at 8:25 am

There is a big difference between the films you rate as excellent and the films you actually want to sit down and watch, or recommend to others to sit down and watch. My personal favourites are “The Seven Samurai” and “Metropolis”. What I am likely to watch, though, on a vacant evening, is “The Thirteenth Warrior”, “Ice Cold in Alex” or “Rear Window”. (Although I will watch “Yojimbo” or “Sanjuro”, or “My Neighbour Totoro”). “Eraserhead” is a great ground-breaking film, but it’s not one that most people would sit down to with a bag of popcorn.
The film recommendations I’ve recently made were “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Despicable Me” – both post-millenium! The American Film industry is in a state of bloat and fear. They are only prepared to sink money in safe bets – increasingly that seems to be characters from the comic-book age. They are going to appeal to the kids and the oldsters with happy memories. Apart from those, inventive films are thin on the ground – and seem to come from independent funding.

13

Andreas Moser 08.07.12 at 8:47 am

Even the new James Bond film looks disappointing: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/james-bond-skyfall-trailer/ :-(

14

mollymooly 08.07.12 at 9:05 am

Is Battleship a reboot of Eisenstein?

15

John Holbo 08.07.12 at 9:07 am

Edmond’s point is reasonable, but points to a possible data set – we don’t have it – that would rather decisively refute my overall complaint, and many of these others. Suppose every critic feels exactly as we do and each has their Apichatpong Weerasethakul (my apologies, I do not personally know anything about this filmmaker), and also presents a list that tilts – as it should – much heavier towards post-70’s stuff, and, specifically, post-2000 stuff. But there’s no consensus whatsoever. So all that stuff gets nixed. The whole post-2000 list (with the exception of Mulholland Drive, which gets through by some miracle – like Travolta and Jackson getting missed by all the shots in Pulp Fiction) is wiped out. Everyone makes a few nods to tradition, and those nods end up being the only things that make the cut. With the result that everyone looks like they are seriously nodding.

It would be nice if “Sight & Sound” published some further stats that indicated whether something of the sort were the case. For starters, just say how many votes there were for any film from each year. If there were lots of votes for post-2000 cinema, just no consensus, that would be interesting.

I think what is most telling is the total absence of any blockbuster from the list – even though one criterion for ‘greatest’ that critics were told to consider was ‘most important for film history’. It’s hard for me to believe that no “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” or “Ghostbusters” (take your pick of popular moneymakers) etc. etc. counts as ‘important enough film history to be considered great, even if flawed in certain ways’. In a quick scan through, the only film that ever made it on any of these top 10 lists that was also a number 1 box office smash was Charlie Chaplin, “City Lights”, which made the first list in 1952, then faded. (Obviously a lot of these films were very popular, but no real blockbusters.)

16

SusanC 08.07.12 at 9:09 am

The list is a bit highbrow … it could be “films people say they like, to show how good their taste is” rather than films they actually like to watch. This is similar to books people buy to be seen on their book shelf, rather than to read.

They did include Stanley Kubric’s 2001, but it seems that genre films like SF have to be old and/or in black and white to make the cut. Bonus marks if they don’t even have sound. (Ok, La Jetée has voice-over but no dialogue and some of Stalker is in colour…)

17

Katherine 08.07.12 at 9:22 am

Apropos of not-very-much, that LA Times article is rubbish. Full of “young people don’t do what people used to do, therefore [insert insulting generalisation about mental degeneration here]“. Also, a couple of college professors said students reacted coldly to Citizen Kane and found The Godfather boring. That’s new! Also, representative!

18

Phil 08.07.12 at 9:28 am

Obviously a lot of these films were very popular, but no real blockbusters.

Well, no true blockbuster would be seen dead in a list like this… How are you defining ‘blockbuster’, without looking at the list? I think the Godfather (1 and 2) and Apocalypse Now bust the odd block between them.

19

John Edmond 08.07.12 at 9:59 am

And at least 7 of the top 10 were either hits (2001, Tokyo Story) or designed to be hits (The Rules of the Game, which, if we could pretend vibes count more than actual success, is the most populist on the list).

@John Holbo S&S are usually good at presenting a representative sample of the votes used to determine their annual best films of the year list, hopefully they’ll at least match that with this. We already have some individual lists bouncing around, to use say….Apichatpong Weerasethakul as an example we get this:

Goodbye Dragon Inn (Tsai 2003)
A Brighter Summer Day (Yang 1991)
Ran (Kurosawa 1985)
Empire (Warhol 1964)
Valentin De Las Sierras (Baillie 1971)
The Conversation (Coppola 1974)
Full Metal Jacket (Kubrick 1987) Amusing if you know Weer’s taste for diptychs.
The Eighties (Akerman 1986)
The General (Keaton 1926)
Satantango (Tarr 1994)

I doubt most voters would have been as considerate/obtuse as this, but telling in quantity of nodders that appear.

20

Metatone 08.07.12 at 9:59 am

I don’t really want to be the token defender of the critics, but I do think that there’s partly a consensus problem here and also a problem of “influence detection.”

The consensus problem isn’t just about everyone voting for different new films, it’s also a “canon” problem. Like Cooperstown, or various other halls of fame, no-one wants to vote a film in too early in case it looks stupid after a while.

On influence detection, the criterion “most important for film history” automatically gives prominence to older films because you can see their influence more easily. There’s a bunch of “firsts” in there, Murnau, Vertov, Eisenstein – it’s quite possibly to identify later films that do what they did with more refinement, but they did it first, so they had the influence. There’s also the smattering from the silent era.

It’s a lot like academic citations, the giants of the field get a namecheck in every 3rd paper, so if you look at “number of citations” they are just off the scale.

So there’s a good 15 or so films that are there for “firsts” and then there are nods to genres which were/are very important (westerns, musicals, sci-fi,etc.) and films that brought the international into Hollywood consciousness (Rashomon, Pather…) Then there’s the thing that some good directors had a style that warrants an entry, but the voters are split, so you end up with two (Hitchcock, Yasujiro, etc.)

For me there are two big areas of omission. The first is that there’s little recognition of the action genre overall, which has as much presence now as the Western had, and then there’s the thing that dogs just about every form of art, the depressing lack of respect for comedy.

21

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 08.07.12 at 9:59 am

It appears the film critics deliberately chose the least entertaining Kubrick film for the list (Eyes Wide Shut aside). 2001 is ok – better with Pink Floyd – but Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange are far superior and entertaining as well.

22

Greg 08.07.12 at 10:43 am

(ajay @ 4, never forgetting xkcd’s footnote to that comment about tradition: “an ‘American tradition’ is anything that happened to a baby boomer twice”).

The same thing happens in Rolling Stone and other sources’ greatest ever single/album/artist/etc. I don’t know anybody who really wants to drive along thumping the wheel to Robert Johnson’s scratchy old stuff, or party to Brian Eno, but there they are every time.

I think it’s less about elitism than it is about the practice of cultural criticism itself. It’s difficult and precarious to lift your career on well-aimed wafts of your own hot air, and much easier to join the other vultures in the thermals.

23

John Holbo 08.07.12 at 10:49 am

“I think the Godfather (1 and 2) and Apocalypse Now bust the odd block between them.”

I didn’t mean to suggest that the films on the list were all virtuous commercial failures. Obviously a lot of them were quite popular as well as being critical successes. But there’s a difference between being quite popular and a commercial success and being a blockbuster in the post-Lucas/post-Spielberg sense. There aren’t any of those on the list. Except that I stand corrected about “Godfather”. Boxoffice Mojo has it coming in #23 all-time, adjusted:

http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.htm

That’s good enough to count as a blockbuster in my book. Fair enough. But I don’t think “Apocalypse Now” (ranked 645, all-time domestic) or “Godfather II” (1,350) qualifies.

24

Barry Freed 08.07.12 at 11:21 am

You know what I thought was a surprisingly good film I watched on the plane: The Lorax. My daughters both agree. Violet watched it three times.

N00000000000000! That movie is an abomination. Did they at least read the book.?

25

John Holbo 08.07.12 at 11:27 am

I don’t think they have read the book. We’ve read a ton of Seuss but somehow missed that one. I agree with the girls. It was good. Animation looked good and the music was good and I didn’t mind the liberties taken with the story. That’s the sticking point for lots of people, I’m sure, but I thought it was done well. One of my annoying habits, on the other hand, is liking kid’s movie to a degree that makes other folks a bit uncomfortable. I really, really liked “Meet The Robinsons”, for example.

26

John Holbo 08.07.12 at 11:55 am

“Is Battleship a reboot of Eisenstein?”

That’s funny!

27

Akshay 08.07.12 at 12:15 pm

I think it is perfectly plausible that Hollywood, at least, simply doesn’t make movies which are that good anymore. You’ve got the blockbuster mentality, catering to a younger and younger audience of teenagers, catering to an international audience (so no cultural nuance and simpler english), the huge marketing budgets required for world-wide release, the power of philistine 0,01% studio exec’s, use of The Formula replacing pioneering exploration, thus making every single event in every single movie utterly predictable, etc.etc.

World cinema/Art House might still produce masterpieces, but going to see a slow-moving Dardenne brothers’ downer is like eating your spinach. Perhaps even the critics have a hard time with them. And if English language cinema is in decline, perhaps the linguistic barrier makes it universally harder for everybody to appreciate the next masterpiece, which is in a non-global language.

I am happy that Mulholland Dr. scored well, it really was one of the most memorable movies I saw in the theater between ages 15 and 25. That said, I have a hard time thinking of another movie which I saw from that time which belongs on above list. The movie buffs I knew between ages 15 and 25 were pretty much in agreement that mainstream movies really were getting dumber and dumber and that art movies with popular appeal were a dying breed. So it’s not just boomer curmudgeonliness. The young are in agreement: sometimes things do get worse. Hell, sometime between when I was 15 and 25, GW Bush got “elected” and the world has gotten suckier ever since.

28

DHMCarver 08.07.12 at 12:19 pm

A bit of info on how the list was compiled would have been useful, and it goes a long way to explaining the results (see this piece which gives a good summary: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2012/08/sight-sounds-top-50-greatest-films-of-all-time.html. And see also: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2012/04/the_greatest_films_of_all_time.html). A large number of people (846) are asked for their lists. These lists are aggregated. The final list is the result. As some above have speculated, the more recent films tend not to have a consensus built around them (yet?), and thus there are not enough “votes” for those films so they can break into the top 50. In addition, many films end up on the list that may not be as “good” (whatever that means) as other films, but they were groundbreaking and moved cinema to new places. “Breathless” is a good example — and anyone who thinks that “Breathless” is inaccessible or arty simply has not watched the film. Godard has become a watchword for cinema for intellectuals, but his early films are as accessible as Seinfeld.

And I will happily defend the way the list tilts towards older films. I am something of a movie buff, but until the last few years I watched few films from before the 1980s (that’s when I first became interested in cinema). My tastes were exceedingly contemporary. But about three years ago or so I started becoming interested in film history, and started watching some of the older “classics”, and the more I watched, the more I liked them. They stick with you in a way so many contemporary films often don’t. One of the many things I like about the Sight & Sound list is that it seems to reflect a wide consensus that is not responsive to the whims of the day, like most Top Whatever lists are, which have in their top five one or two classics and then the balance works that are only a year or so old (see just about any top whatever list fro Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly).

A side note — some of those who commented above seem to imply Sight & Sound is American. It is a British publication, but it draws from a wide pool of people connected to the film industry. I do not know how widely it draws from outside of the Anglo-American axis, however.

29

Platonist 08.07.12 at 12:27 pm

Ockham’s razor is an arbitrary superstition, but in this case, he–and the film critics–are inarguably right: “On the other hand, maybe film was just better before Star Wars.”

The “you’re just telling the kids to get off the lawn, you’re a secret conservative” response is so effective while deeply misleading because it’s both true and false. Everyone makes evaluative judgments in part on the basis of personal prejudices that have nothing to do with quality, and most have a bias toward their own time, age, and circle of familiarity.

But the charge is almost always false for two reasons. First, the bias cancels out in these disagreements. The purists assume that if new is bad, older is better, idealizing the past. The average person assumes that if not my time is bad, everything now is good, idealizing the present. Second, these unreasonable motives tell us nothing, positive or negative, about the truth of the judgments. Every film critic in the world may make every judgment for pathological reasons and be absolutely right in their assessments. Indeed, the tendency among the “you’re telling the kids to get off your lawn” folks to assume that pathology proves falseness of judgment suggests the opposite pathology: the belief that newer is better.

In the end, is there anything more tiresome than the charge, as has appeared a couple time in these comments and other threads that “you don’t really enjoy what you say you enjoy!” People who really love movies enjoy things the average consumer doesn’t. Just like people who really like literature, or food, wine, sci-fi or comic books really enjoy things that the average person doesn’t. Would this blog be so cynical about a list of the top 50 novels or the top fifty paintings or the top fifty boring academic treatises about economics or something? Would you demand a more representative historical spread?

Incidentally, do people who repeat the old line about the difficulty of Godard really know his work very well at all? I really have a hard time believing anyone cannot “enjoy” a movie like Breathless, Band of Outsiders, Masculine/Feminine, Weekend, or Contempt. But, go figure, I’m capable of imagining that enjoyment is not dictated by me!

30

John Edmond 08.07.12 at 1:03 pm

Akshay: “World cinema/Art House might still produce masterpieces, but going to see a slow-moving Dardenne brothers’ downer is like eating your spinach. Perhaps even the critics have a hard time with them. “

But the Dardenne’s films aren’t slow moving. Half their films are about berserker battering rams who can’t stop moving, no matter what the obstacle – and the camera moves just as fast to keep up with them.

31

AcademicLurker 08.07.12 at 1:09 pm

The average person assumes that if not my time is bad, everything now is good, idealizing the present.

“No one ever lost money betting against the intelligence of the average American” & etc. & etc., but I don’t think the above really describes the attitude of the average (if by average you mean “not an art house film snob”) person to film.

If you polled random people on the street about the 20 greatest films of all time, I’m guessing that most people’s lists would include a healthy number of older films because most people have internalized the idea that they’re “classics” (even if they’ve never actually seen the film in question).

32

John Holbo 08.07.12 at 1:16 pm

OK, here’s my top 10 list, taking my cue from Ebert’s proposal (and a couple other critic’s have said the same) that people maybe oughta be kinda personal and random. In no particular order:

“Klute” [gotta get at least one Donald Sutherland film in, and this one is 'our' film - Belle's and mine]
“The Sweet Smell of Success” [love the teeth on that man, but I identify more with 'ice cream face' Tony Curtis' character]
“Beat The Devil” [prove me wrong!]
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” [because it is a perfectly constructed action film, and a blockbuster, and this is an important category]
“The Passion of Joan of Arc” [because it taught me that silent film could be great]
“Brazil” [because it blew my mind in high school]
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” [because I had just gotten to Chicago and it was the right time]
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” [because Charlie Kaufman is a genius]
“Synecdoche, New York” [so there!]
“Midsummer Night’s Dream” [the 1935 Rheinhardt/Dieterle one, because I rented it randomly one night and was gobsmacked. Either that or "The President's Analyst", which I turned on one night at 1 am and couldn't figure out what the hell I was watching. James Coburn has the only set of teeth that can compete with Burt Lancaster's.]

I’ll regret this in the morning.

33

John Holbo 08.07.12 at 1:21 pm

OK, “The Matrix” should be in there somewhere. Kick out “Midsummer” or “Beat”, then. But now maybe I want “The Thin Man” as well. Ah well.

34

Phil 08.07.12 at 1:31 pm

I really have a hard time believing anyone cannot “enjoy” a movie like Breathless, Band of Outsiders, Masculine/Feminine, Weekend, or Contempt.

A few years ago a friend was off work ill and asked for film recommendations on a list we shared. I suggested something by Buñuel – ideally The Phantom of Liberty or The Milky Way – and was howled down as an appallingly pretentious intellectual. But I tell you, it would work for me. I’ve got Chris Marker’s Sunless on VHS somewhere; it’d be well worth a dose of flu to watch that again.

JH – fair point about blockbusters. It’s a term I struggle with, as in these latter days it usually seems to mean “big dumb FX-heavy movies made by the same two or three directors, telling hackneyed stories with simplified emotions and being taken seriously by public intellectuals who should know better”. (Or maybe that’s what they said about Gone with the Wind.) If ‘blockbuster’ can also mean The Sting or My Fair Lady, that’s a different matter.

Actually, that ‘top 200′ gives release dates, which… give me a minute.

Graphed it for you. The series in red is the number of films released in each decade which were in the top 200 of all-time ticket sale revenue, adjusted for inflation. 87 films released in the 1990s and 2000s are in the top 200, as against 101 released between 1920 and 1989. (I’ve excluded the 12 films released since 2009 which are in the top 200, so percentages are calculated out of 188.)

There are more blockbusters these days – it’s official. The truth of the Sight and Sound corollary (…and none of them (except the Godfather) are any good) is perhaps more subjective.

35

John Holbo 08.07.12 at 1:40 pm

“There are more blockbusters these days – it’s official.”

One of the reasons I decided I wanted my “Philosophy and Film” module to focus in sf is that I want to grapple with this issue. A lot of critics saw “Star Wars” as the death of cinema. On the one hand, they admitted it was good. On the other hand, it was going to squeeze out the other good stuff. I want to think about how one can make a judgment like that.

36

sanbikinoraion 08.07.12 at 1:43 pm

Old films are rubbish. Pre-1950 (at least), they’re in crappy 4:3, the prints have faded (and were splotchy to begin with), the sound quality is appalling, and the ingrained cultural sexism and racism compromises so many of them.

Exercise for the reader: how many of the quoted films are, really, better than Inception…?

37

Phil 08.07.12 at 1:45 pm

My top 10, straight off the top of my head.

O Lucky Man! [because... Malcolm McDowell! Lindsay Anderson! Look, have you seen it? See it, you'll thank me.]
Sunless [here's a review]
And La jetée [I mean, come *on*]
The Phantom of Liberty [Wonderful film. Wonderful film. ¡Vivan las caenas!]
It happened one night [Because.]

Pausing for breath now…

The Godfather Part Two [Because of the closing shot.]
Dr Strangelove [Possibly the best mismatch of director and script ever. Kubrick couldn't pace a gag to save his life - but imagine if it had been a funny film.]
The Milky Way [Possibly the best picaresque adventure consisting mainly of theological debate ever made]
Toto le Héros [My favourite film about death. Better than American Beauty.]
Kind hearts and coronets [Because of the man-trap scene, among others.]

38

Uncle Kvetch 08.07.12 at 1:47 pm

In the end, is there anything more tiresome than the charge, as has appeared a couple time in these comments and other threads that “you don’t really enjoy what you say you enjoy!”

And on that note, I did a full double-take on reading Greg’s “I don’t know anybody who really wants to [...] party to Brian Eno, but there they are every time.”

(While I don’t necessarily party to Eno, I listen to his music a lot, because I really, really enjoy it.)

39

Chris Bertram 08.07.12 at 1:51 pm

Top 10:

1. Les 400 coups
2. All About Eve
3. If …
4. The Maltese Falcon
5. The Third Man
6. Casablanca
7. Battle of Algiers
8. 2001
9. Wings of Desire
10. The Marriage of Maria Braun

40

Phil 08.07.12 at 1:51 pm

Somebody zap my previous comment, could they? Here’s what it should have looked like:

My top 10, straight off the top of my head.

O Lucky Man! [because… Malcolm McDowell! Lindsay Anderson! Look, have you seen it? See it, you’ll thank me.]
Sunless [here’s a review]
*And* La jetée [I mean, come *on*]
The Phantom of Liberty [Wonderful film. Wonderful film. ¡Vivan las caenas!]
It happened one night [Because.]

Pausing for breath now…

The Godfather Part Two [Because of the closing shot.]
Dr Strangelove [Possibly the best *mis*match of director and script ever. Kubrick couldn’t pace a gag to save his life – but imagine if it had been a *funny* film.]
The Milky Way [Possibly the best picaresque adventure consisting mainly of theological debate ever made]
Toto le Héros [My favourite film about death. Better than American Beauty.]
Kind hearts and coronets [Because of the man-trap scene, among others.]

41

Barry Freed 08.07.12 at 1:59 pm

Either that or “The President’s Analyst”, which I turned on one night at 1 am and couldn’t figure out what the hell I was watching.

The President’s Analyst is my long-time all-time favorite movie. You are forgiven your previous inexplicable lack of judgement in liking the abomination that is The Lorax.

42

Barry Freed 08.07.12 at 2:01 pm

O Lucky Man! [because… Malcolm McDowell! Lindsay Anderson! Look, have you seen it? See it, you’ll thank me.]

Yes, and it’s great and belongs on the list – it’s been 30 years since I’ve seen it and if anyone hasn’t they should but I remember it being very disturbing so I don’t know about the thanking part.

43

engineer27 08.07.12 at 2:08 pm

Possibly, the amazing thing about movies before 1929 is not that they were well made, but that they were made at all.

If you are a highbrow critic, how much is your appreciation of a film affected by your knowledge of its budget and the circumstances of its production?

44

prasad 08.07.12 at 2:11 pm

Okay, this is clearly a snooty list in the sense that it leaves out plenty of cinema that’s widely regarded as great, but also ‘fun.’ Fun films like The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, African Queen, or The Good the bad and the Ugly (or really every western other than the pretty boring Searchers). Plus if you look at directors there’s 4x Godard but only one Kubrick (and not the funnest one) and only one from Billy Wilder (no love for Double Indemnity or Sunset Boulevard or The Apartment?). And Woody Allen’s missing – I’m not saying it’s a scandal for a top 50 not to have him, just that it’s telling that directors like him or Spielberg don’t make it.

On the other hand, I -do- think the past 30 or so years haven’t been the best for cinema of the sort that might become canonical. I don’t think snootiness alone is driving this in other words. I bet if you asked the same people to pick out the best fifty TV programs ever there’d be plenty of stuff from the last 30/20/10/5 years. Simply put, it’s a mistake to assume the cinema now is just as good as what was made before, just it’s silly to assume TV in the 60s and 70s -must- have been anything like as awesome as what we’ve had in recent years.
I want to partly defend that list as well.

45

prasad 08.07.12 at 2:12 pm

Hmm, I didn’t realize putting dashes around a word for emphasis would strike it through.

46

ben w 08.07.12 at 2:23 pm

that would rather decisively refute my overall complaint,

Wait, what is your complaint? These critics are unlike those conservatives who pine for an imagined/hazily remembered 50s: we can those movies are still with us, and we can watch them, and you know what? Lots of old movies are really fantastic. Is your complaint that Breathless (the only one you name that I’ve seen) actually ain’t all that?

47

Josh G. 08.07.12 at 2:40 pm

Wow, that LA Times article is garbage.

As taste goes, millennials seem to have a hard time relating to movies that are only a few years old.

And yet I suspect most of these same millennials have seen Star Wars (a film released before they were born) multiple times, and a sizable number of them probably think the original trilogy is better than the prequels.

They find old movies hopelessly passé — technically primitive, politically incorrect, narratively dull, slowly paced.

This is said with an implied “tut-tut”: those stupid, shortsighted kids! But are they really wrong? Most old movies, even those officially considered “classics”, are technically primitive, narratively dull, and slowly paced. (Political correctness I shall leave to others.) My feeling is that if you’re not going to have good action sequences or some other kind of neat visual, you’re wasting the medium of film. Without that stuff, why not just write a book instead?

unlike classic literature, around which a whole apparatus has been built so that J.K. Rowling can’t supplant Shakespeare

Well, why can’t J.K. Rowling supplant Shakespeare? Is that supposed to be a good thing? Why do we believe that today’s best authors are not equal to the giants of the past? If anything, they should be better, since they are selected from a far, far larger pool in a much more fiercely competitive market. The worship of long-dead authors among academia and high culture strikes me as just as absurd as the medieval belief that Aristotle and Galen had already said everything worth saying about philosophy and medicine respectively. Or the grizzled baseball fan at the end of the bar muttering about how everything has gone downhill since Sandy Koufax retired.

48

JP Stormcrow 08.07.12 at 2:55 pm

Phil@34/1:31pm
There are more blockbusters these days – it’s official.

The shape of that graph leads me to question the methodology of the top 200 list. And from looking closer at the data, I’m wondering if they are missing a number of older “near blockbusters” somehow (alternatively, the distribution of films by revenue was quite different back in the day*). Here is a summary of what makes me question it:
% of pre-1980 films in category:
Overall: 24%, 1-50 44%, 51-100 32%, 101-150 12%, 151-200 8% (and for the last category no films before 1970).

So not sure real blockbusters are that much thicker on the ground.

*There are a lot of confounding factors, of course. Older films get re-releases (a few of them) and I suspect the out-of-country-of-origin revenues were comparatively smaller.

49

bob mcmanus 08.07.12 at 3:01 pm

I’ve seen a lot of these movies, including Lav Diaz, Tarr and “Just call me Joe” There are plenty of good to great movies being made, they just can’t get distributed. The arthouse directors limit themselves to “arty” movies because that is about the only way they can get on a big screen. It’s a living.

But there are plenty of very good movies that don’t push the boundaries or advance the medium. That should in no way be a criterion. Is Koreeda on the list? Sayles?

Way too much “progress” floating around here, including in the S & S polls and the threads. Not enough 30s movies, not enough from the teens. The idea is that once an idea or technique has been discovered, it must be surpassed, you know, we keep getting better and better. Art don’t work that way. At least for me. Henry Moore is not “better” than Praxitales.

Time again to put the Laocoon on tour again, I guess. We don’t suck compared to our ancestors, but I guess it is importnt that we think we do.

50

Josh G. 08.07.12 at 3:03 pm

On the other hand, I do think the past 30 or so years haven’t been the best for cinema of the sort that might become canonical. I don’t think snootiness alone is driving this in other words. I bet if you asked the same people to pick out the best fifty TV programs ever there’d be plenty of stuff from the last 30/20/10/5 years. Simply put, it’s a mistake to assume the cinema now is just as good as what was made before, just it’s silly to assume TV in the 60s and 70s must have been anything like as awesome as what we’ve had in recent years.

I wouldn’t go as far as to extend this to the past 30 years (there were a *lot* of good movies in the 1980s and 1990s) but I do think an argument could be made that movies in the past 10 years or so have indeed become somewhat less sophisticated. The reason for that isn’t lack of talent, but rather what you allude to: much of the best talent has moved over to episodic TV. If you want to tell a really detailed, involved story, TV is a superior medium; a standard 13-episode season has over 9 hours of runtime, which is well over three times as much as you can fit in an average theatrical film. As a result of cheap CGI, high-end special effects are no longer the sole province of big-budget film. And the advent of wide-screen HDTV with multi-channel sound means that the viewing experience doesn’t have to be compromised as it once did. Meanwhile, the artistic integrity of big-budget cinema is compromised by the need to appeal to a mass international audience and to appease Chinese censors.
Screenwriters who have a good story to tell now gravitate towards TV, leaving the cinema to the Michael Bay types on one hand and the niche arthouse snobs on the other.

51

VeeLow 08.07.12 at 3:07 pm

OF COURSE film was “better before Star Wars”….seriously, though: why do people constantly confuse the argument type “cultural forms rise and fall for particular reasons” with “get off my lawn argh”? few would disagree that we’re in a golden age of TV, right? and I think it’s equally plausible that we’re in a lousy time for movies (“film”). the great age of the art house film ended around 1980; the 80s had good American indie movies; the age of serious/arty TV kicks off around 1990 and gets into high gear with HBO…

52

Jameson Quinn 08.07.12 at 3:20 pm

I refused to see Lorax (my daughter liked it). But I get the impression that it’s a decent Wally clone. The problem is that making a Wally clone called “lorax” is an abomination. The post-onceler world should not have a plastic place to hide, no spaceship full of slurpees. You destroy the world, you can’t hide from that.

53

AcademicLurker 08.07.12 at 3:20 pm

I don’t see nearly as many current movies now as a did up through about 1999.

Have “art house” films really diverged from mainstream cinema to a greater degree over the last decade?

Back in the late 80s and 90s, my impression was that art house films tended to explain less, be more experimental, and often had slower more deliberate pacing, but they weren’t an entirely separate genus from the mainstream. Different species maybe, but still clearly related.

So does “art house” now designate some very rarified “the sort of thing that people who like that sort of thing tend to like” genre?

54

js. 08.07.12 at 3:25 pm

Am I the only one who’s basically just glad that post-Lucas blockbusters aren’t represented on the list?

But seriously, I think metatone @20 is right. And I really don’t see what the problem with this is. If you want something more Hollywood/blockbuster oriented, there’re always the lists AFI puts out.

55

js. 08.07.12 at 4:09 pm

Also, it’s not exactly inexplicable that there was, umm, a burst of creative energy (tried looking for less clichéd phrase; failed) in the early to mid-60’s—esp. in Europe! Nor is it at all inexplicable that the cultural products from then continue to be quite significant.

(By way of comparison, if I were to say: I wonder why the Beatles/Stones/Velvet Underground continue to be touchstones for contemporary popular music?, Well, everyone’s a closet reactionary, is really—really—not the most obvious response.)

56

NickS 08.07.12 at 4:17 pm

When I’ve tried to come up with a personal top 10 list before I have always stopped myself by deciding that I should only list films that I’ve seen more than once, which makes for a much smaller list. But I realize know that I probably can come up with a list of 10 good films that I’ve seen more than once — but I know there are a lot of good films that are excluded by that criteria.

In no particular order:

Blade Runner
Ghost World
Casablanca
My Dinner With Andre
Le Samurai
Jules and Jim
Vertigo
House of Games
The Seventh Seal
Miller’s Crossing

Not a bad list, but writing that makes me want to watch some other movies again.

57

Peter Erwin 08.07.12 at 4:21 pm

There are more blockbusters these days – it’s official.

The problem is that it’s difficult to disentangle an actual increase in the fraction of blockbusters (e.g., the number of movies released in a given year or decade — or the fraction thereof — which are blockbusters) from the fact that the market has gotten larger over time. The population of the US in 1940 was 132 million, while it’s now about 310 million. So unless movies were a dying artform, you’d expect a larger fraction of (inflation-adjusted) ticket sales in recent years.

I’d also want to know whether those figures in your plot are “domestic” (i.e., US) or “worldwide”, since I think the latter market has grown even faster than the US market. Modern blockbusters make most of the money outside the US (example: Avatar made $706M domestically, $2.0 billion outside the US; Inception made $290M in the US and $533M outside). But just 30 years ago, that wasn’t true: Raiders of the Lost Ark made $242M domestically vs only $142M outside the US. (Numbers from boxofficemojo.com)

58

novakant 08.07.12 at 4:35 pm

Everyone makes a few nods to tradition, and those nods end up being the only things that make the cut. With the result that everyone looks like they are seriously nodding.

I think that’s a bit unfair. Reading through the individual critics’ lists and comments in the print edition (which will be online in a week or so), it strikes me how intensely personal these choices are. And this is reflected by the numbers:

846 people took part and the vote count for the top ten is as follows:

Vertigo = 191
Citizen Kane = 157
Tokyo Story = 107
La Regle du Jeu = 100
Sunrise = 93
2001 = 90
The Searchers = 78
Man with a Movie Camera = 68
The Passion of Joan of Arc = 65
8 1/2 = 64

So even the top voted film is only on 22% of the lists and the convergence then quickly goes below 10% within the top ten, to 5% in the top 20 and so on. Many critics complain that they could only list 10 films and some question the whole list making business.

I don’t even know what “greatest” is supposed to mean in this context (no, really), so I take it with a grain of salt and instead of treating it as a canon look for stuff I haven’t seen yet or want to see again.

Btw, here’s a nice compilation of lists and this is great as well.

59

Peter Erwin 08.07.12 at 4:39 pm

Josh G. @ 50:
Meanwhile, the artistic integrity of big-budget cinema is compromised by the need to appeal to a mass international audience and to appease Chinese censors.

One could make the same sort of argument about the Hays Code and similar censorship which operated in the US film industry up until the late 1950s, and yet we’re perfectly happy arguing that great movies were made back then.

60

prasad 08.07.12 at 4:59 pm

Josh, many thanks for laying out the T.V. argument. You say there was great cinema in the 80s and 90s, but of course that’s going to be true of any ten year span of time chosen at random, even 2001 – 2011. The question is frequency. For my part if anything I’d say the golden age of cinema was over even by the 60s, though the 70s saw a strong but brief revival. But tastes differ.

Well, why can’t J.K. Rowling supplant Shakespeare? Is that supposed to be a good thing? Why do we believe that today’s best authors are not equal to the giants of the past?

There’s no generic presumption that giants must be ancient (though they’re easier to tell from far away). I’d say Breaking Bad is easily on a “greats” par with The Count of Monte Cristo, and few would make a principled stand against letting Proust or Kafka or Mann or Faulkner into canon just because they were alive a hundred years ago. Come closer and it’s always harder…I myself think J.M. Coetzee belongs on a greats list, and Thomas Pynchon doesn’t as much, but I wouldn’t expect any group of five people chosen randomly to agree even on that limited statement about the relative worth of two particular authors.

But I’ll have to avada kedavra anyone who thinks J.K Rowling is a giant, much less a Shakespeare level giant.

61

Keith Edwards 08.07.12 at 5:54 pm

Fred Cairns @12:
They are only prepared to sink money in safe bets – increasingly that seems to be characters from the comic-book age. They are going to appeal to the kids and the oldsters with happy memories. Apart from those, inventive films are thin on the ground – and seem to come from independent funding.

I agree generally and would cite Source Code as an example.

However. Your final clause does exclude films like Inception, which was both inventive and not even remotely indie. Of course we could call it an outlier, since it was made by the guy who has made one of the top grossing movies of the last decade, and so the studios would let him light a Brinks truck full of money on fire if he wanted to (and if he filmed it, it would be moody, dark and compelling). But if film is an auteur’s medium, then the good stuff is all outliers anyway.

As to the list though, it’s boomer critics being boomers. For a film to make this list it needs to meet one of three requirements:

1. Be fondly remembered from childhood (which as we all know, ended in 1963)
2. Be fondly remembered from film school
3. Be made later than 1966 but not after 1996 and evoke nostalgia for 1 or 2

62

Keith Edwards 08.07.12 at 6:12 pm

NickS @56:

I see your list and raise you another 10 (well, 8):

Some Like It Hot
Charade
Blade Runner
Casablanca
North By Northwest
The Princess Bride
Back to the Future
The Royal Tenenbaums
Close Encounters
The Brothers Bloom

All easily ten of my favorites, the qualifier being, that if you were to put any one of these movies in the DVD player, I would stop what I was doing to sit and watch them with undivided attention.

63

Substance McGravitas 08.07.12 at 6:43 pm

I don’t have a problem believing that the people figuring out the rules of movies and genres made some of the most interesting movies, and I don’t think there need to be modern movies on the list because they’re modern. List-making is a competitive enterprise and if you imagine each newly-released film competing with 100 years of prior cinema then not much new is ever going to get on the list. The bias just seems reasonable, regardless of my own lack of desire to track down everything on their list and see something new.

The Lorax was no Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

64

Substance McGravitas 08.07.12 at 6:43 pm

“and see something new instead.”

65

Bloix 08.07.12 at 6:47 pm

Did you look at the top-10 list compiled from working directors? It’s got a later average, because it doesn’t include any silents – but its most recent film is Apocalypse Now (1979).

I don’t see how you can argue that these directors are conservatives who their own work as inferior that of a past Golden Age. I understand the basis for your cynical view that the critics are acting in bad faith – it’s about their prestige as keepers of the cultural flame; but what benefit would directors obtain from running down their own era in preference to the past?

An alternative explanation is that critical judgment tends to coalesce over time. For more recent years, the voters are most likely over the map, each with different favorites, and no one film attracts enough support to make the list. But for older films, only a few have become generally accepted as iconic expressions of their periods. These films get selected repeatedly, so they appear on the final list.

And you’re left with a “ten best” list that doesn’t reflect the average age of the films on the lists of the individual participants at all.

66

Substance McGravitas 08.07.12 at 7:00 pm

Note the Sight and Sound poll threads at LGM here and here. I’d add a third link (with a longer comment thread) but don’t wanna get caught in the spam trap and it’s already included in one of the posts anyway.

67

Ben Alpers 08.07.12 at 7:22 pm

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the rise of home video in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which made it dramatically easier to access (many) films from the past. Before, filmgoers had to rely on the choices made by repertory film houses and (often local) television, each of which had established their own effective canons built along quite different lines from each other, due to the rather different economic and aesthetic imperatives of the film theater and television businesses (college and university film societies and film classes provided a third, more limited, venue for seeing 0lder movies).

Once VCRs became commonplace, however, access to movies not currently in release dramatically diversified. I’m sure this change had a serious impact on the relationship of movie watchers (and filmmakers) to the cinematic past.

68

partisan 08.07.12 at 7:27 pm

I disagree with a lot of the tone of these posts. If someone composed a list of the greatest novels of the last century, no one would object if “Ulysses” and “The Remembrance of Things Past” were there. In fact people would be outraged if they weren’t.

I object to Edwards #1 point. How many of these films would be fondly remembered from childhood? “Vertigo” was certainly less popular and less designed for the adolescent audience than “North by Northwest,” “Psycho,” or “Rear Window.” “The Searchers” was not as big a hit as “Rio Bravo,” let alone dozens of other films made from 1955 to 1963. And the bit about the Boomers in film school is off as well. “Tokyo Story” didn’t get a widespread American release until 1972. “The Mirror” got a decidedly unenthusiastic brief American release in 1983

As for Sanbikinoraion@36: all 52 films are clearly superior to “Inception.” Of the four movies on this list that I would not put on my top 1000 films, I have no doubt that “History of Cinema” would repay a second viewing more than “Inception.” Marcello Mastroianni in “8 1/2″ is clearly a superior actor to Leonardo DiCaprio, and if I don’t connect with the love story in “L’Atalante” it clearly has more emotional weight than “Inception” does. Even the aggressively simple-minded “Metropolis” has more imagination.

69

prickly potter 08.07.12 at 7:47 pm

JK Rowling has supplanted Shakespeare and may even have supplanted Tolkien. O tempora.

Disclaimer – I am not a boomer and have not been to film school.

My film list is probably like my wine collection – not many ‘big’ names and stars, but bottles that I have tasted myself and decided are worth getting and keeping.

I never got Potemkin. I only started to tolerate Kane a year or two ago. And only watched the Antonioni trilogy and Ozu a few years ago, and loved them. And I dislike ‘Weer’.

What would I ‘sit down to watch’? Not the multiplex stuff usually, and even a lot of commercial films that want to aim higher seem to rely on well used formal/plot mechanisms and tropes. And then I sit there and get a feeling of ‘been there done that’. I guess Potemkin (and Alexander Nevsky) are good for that – showing you just how long ago these things have been done.

I did watch Satantango twice within the span of a week, don’t ask my why. But I would choose Werckmeister over it. And The Turin Horse. Out of a few dozen films at the VIFF last September, the only thing I remember is not being able to get out of my seat at the end of that film.

And why Stalker and not Solaris?
And why Persona and not the 7th Seal or Fanny & Alexander?
And why The 7 Samurai and not Ran? or, god forbid, Dreams?

To a bit more patriotic and obscure, Atanarjuat makes my top 10-15 list, and the final scene of ‘The Diaries of Knud Rasmussen’ ranks with the best of them. But only makes sense in context.

Kaos makes my list too.

Where’s Haneke in all this?
Where is Nuri Bilge Ceylan?
No one Romanian?
No one Iranian?

‘Bes Vakit’ makes my list and I have shamefully forgotten the director’s name.
‘N months, N+1 weeks, N+2 days’
How could I forget? Yi-Yi (one by one)

I have a feeling that if I really tried to think, I wouldn’t stop at ten, and maybe not at 50. But I don’t score wines either, preferring to listen to them speak, if they have anything to say.

70

CaptBackslap 08.07.12 at 7:47 pm

I think Bloix is onto something, with the addition that it’s not just a matter of movies being iconic, but also of the older movies that are mentally available to voters being much higher in average quality than the hundreds from the past few years. This contributes to the idea that older movies are better, which in turn spurs voters to make sure plenty are included…and of course, they then turn to the iconic flicks o’ yesteryear.

71

Peter Erwin 08.07.12 at 8:49 pm

… the older movies that are mentally available to voters being much higher in average quality than the hundreds from the past few years.

Yes, indeed. It’s easy for most of us to have some awareness of the mediocre and awful movies of the past few decades, since we saw some of them and remember people complaining about others. I suspect this plays some role in helping drag down our impressions of recent movies as a whole.

What we’re missing is the vast sea of forgettable movies (and outright crap) that was produced in, say, the 1930s and 1940s (something like 300 or 400 movies each year); only the really good stuff has any visibility now, and so it’s much easier to look on that period as somehow higher in quality than our squalid present.

72

Metatone 08.07.12 at 8:59 pm

Peter Erwin @57 wins the thread for making a point that had only occurred to me just now, several hours after my first comment.

For those interested, it occurred to me after thinking about Bollywood and cinema viewing in rural India. I wondered about the accuracy of counting in the past. It struck me as odd that despite “inflation adjusting” at the mojo site, most of the blockbusters were in the modern age. And of course the explanation is that if you just use gross figures, then the population rise massively favours new films – GWTW gets up due to re-releases.

For those interested in the odd curve, film viewing in the US slowed in the 70s – and Star Wars and the like did revive it, but my recollection is that per capita film viewing numbers for Star Wars etc. didn’t outpace the Studio Era.

73

Metatone 08.07.12 at 9:01 pm

Note – I didn’t go look up the per capita figures, I have them in a book somewhere, but it’s not to hand, so I may be wrong.

74

John Holbo 08.07.12 at 10:48 pm

“I think that’s [Holbo's point] a bit unfair. Reading through the individual critics’ lists and comments in the print edition (which will be online in a week or so), it strikes me how intensely personal these choices are. And this is reflected by the numbers:”

Just to clarify: my point was that the results might actually be consistent with this. Everyone could be making what were, largely, very personal choices with a lot of new options. But the results would look like stiff, generic conservatism. If everyone made just 2 conventional nods out of 10 choices (say), that would be quite commendably independent-minded. But the results, in the aggregate might be that everyone’s 2 conventional nods added up to a completely conventional-looking list that didn’t really resemble the character of the individual lists that generated it.

One point I should have made clearer is that what’s striking is not so much the average date but the near total absence of films not just from the last decade but from the last 30 years. The average date staying still is a function of nothing being added after the 70’s. (“Vertigo” and “Citizen Kane” jostling for 1st is like chairs on the deck of the titanic. The iceberg is the fact that nothing new is being added to the canon.) I think the 80’s was a good decade for film-making, and the 90’s and 2000’s have been perfectly respectable. My hypothesis is that blockbuster culture really has introduced a kind of schizophrenic uncertainty into film criticism. The ‘great’ films are no longer the ones that ‘matter’. “Star Wars” references and “Matrix” references are the stuff of the culture. We talk about film by navigating between films that aren’t on this list. We don’t navigate with reference to “Mullholland Drive”, which is culturally marginal, however much you like it. It isn’t possible for an ‘art’ canon to take form; it gets broken up in the wake of these massive productions. What you need to make this sort of list ‘feel right’ is film and talk about film proceeding forward together. But the sorts of critics who talk about the film on this list are drowned out by other sorts of film, and talk about other sorts of films, in a way they never were before.

75

John Holbo 08.07.12 at 10:58 pm

I’m glad my wise choice of “The President’s Analyst” has redeemed me in some eyes here.

Let me say a few words in defense of “The Lorax”. First, I think the “How Bad Can It Be?” musical number is both good and surprisingly challenging, morally. It’s sympathetic to the Onceler’s ambition and optimistic character, yet morally scathing. My girls both wanted to discuss it. They were both also rocked by the “Dark City” quality of young Ted’s escape from “Thneedville”. It is a “Wall-e” retread, in a sense. But it’s distinctive in some ways. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having “Thneedville” be a village of ultimately unsustainable denialism about climate change, in effect. I think that’s a pretty good message, actually.

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David in NY 08.07.12 at 11:21 pm

I’d just say that Casablanca is the best movie (not film, mind you, movie) ever made and call it a day. (Unless you want great cinematography, in which case go elsewhere …)

Anyway, didn’t Sontag or somebody say that the movies stopped being art around 1975 or so? I firmly agree with whoever it was.

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Phil 08.07.12 at 11:30 pm

“Vertigo” and “Citizen Kane” jostling for 1st is like chairs on the deck of the titanic. The iceberg is the fact that nothing new is being added to the canon … It isn’t possible for an ‘art’ canon to take form; it gets broken up in the wake of these massive productions.

Art movies are icebergs and Titanic is… the icebreaker? It’s late.

David in NY – I think David Thomson said that Chinatown was the last grown-up film Hollywood ever made, which is close (it was 1974). That was certainly a ‘great'(-ish) film that also ‘mattered’ (a bit).

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David in NY 08.07.12 at 11:39 pm

Phil — Oh, either I’ve heard that Thomson quote or thought the same thing myself. When I think of what I’d call a great movie, it almost always predates Chinatown.

And what Sontag seems to have said, ca. 1995-96, was that the movies, and the love of them (“cinephilia”) declined drastically during and after the 1970’s — due to a number of factors including TV, the need for movies to make a killing in their first month, their resulting, greatly increased cost, and the “industrialization” or maybe re-industrialization of the movie business.

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John Holbo 08.07.12 at 11:42 pm

I thought about making that mixed “Titanic” metaphor myself!

I love David Thomson. Before there was the Internet, there was me slowly reading his whole crazy book, entry by entry. What was even better, my tastes are radically different than his. But you could still navigate by adjusting for bias.

Technically, this procedure is called ‘knowing a Howard Hawks from a handsaw.’

80

Lee A. Arnold 08.08.12 at 12:05 am

#69: “No one Iranian?”

Kiarostami is on the BFI top 50 list. Here’s a lovely Kiarostami short, only 3 minutes long, clever, effective, brilliant:

81

GiT 08.08.12 at 12:40 am

I think the volume of movies does make reaching consensus on more recent greats a chore. The point about weeding out over time strikes me as good. In general, if I want to defend good contemporary/ post Star Wars movies it’s much easier to think in terms of directors, rather than individual works. Jarmusch, Malick, Wong Kar-Wai. I like van Sant’s aesthetic in his arty movies. Guy Ritchie films are very fun to watch (I’ve probably seen Snatch more than any other movie).

Surely some of the works of the first three belong with the classics, even if the process of consensus formation makes selecting which specific ones a chore.

82

GeoX 08.08.12 at 1:07 am

I don’t know if I have anything useful to add, but I just want to express my bafflement that no one–not in the original list, and not anywhere in comments–seems to have mentioned Werner Herzog. Come on now! I guess his films would fall under the category of stuff that, allegedly, according to various people on this thread, people don’t want to watch but feel obligated to claim to like, but–as others have done–I feel I must question the validity of this as a category. I’ll happily sit down to watch Aguirre or Even Dwarfs Started Small or Stroszek or Heart of Glass any day.

That is all.

83

John Holbo 08.08.12 at 1:17 am

Herzog is on Ebert’s list, if you click that link up-thread. But it is a notable omission.

84

Steve Williams 08.08.12 at 1:32 am

Part of the reason ‘blockbuster’ type films have trouble getting into the canon, I suspect, is that in many cases the film will be hard to separate from the ‘phenomenon’ – the ‘sleb-mag gossip, the lame parodies on SNL, the f***ing plastic toys – and this works to obscure their merits, such as they are.

Of course, there was far more gossip around movie stars in The Golden Age, but that’s so long ago it looks like glamorous intrigue now, rather than the stop-at-nothing muckraking and merciless PR pushing it undoubtedly was.

85

John Holbo 08.08.12 at 2:14 am

Re: the classification of films as ‘blockbusters’. I don’t take back my concession that “Godfather” is one. Money talks and I can’t argue with that. But it earned that money the slow and steady wins the race way. That is, the Pre-“Star Wars” way. It made a pittance on opening weekend, by Blockbuster standards. It wasn’t designed to rake it in often by raking it in early. (To be fair, “Star Wars” wasn’t either. It didn’t know it was a blockbuster yet. I think it’s opening weekend was surprisingly modest, in retrospect.) Conversely, bombed blockbusters are still blockbuster-type films. Blockbuster is a genre term, not a function of financial success, so it’s a partial category error to argue it with reference to BoxOffice Mojo figures, adjusted gross or net domestic global or otherwise.

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prickly potter 08.08.12 at 2:14 am

@80 Thanks for pointing it out. I glossed over it completely in spite of looking for it

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John Holbo 08.08.12 at 2:19 am

Checking, I see that I was correct. “Star Wars” earned 1.5 million in its first weekend, which was a limited release. Obviously they underestimated the power of the Force, but when they earned 6 million on the first general release weekend they learned it and history was changed.

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js. 08.08.12 at 3:18 am

GeoX @82:

I’m hardly the biggest Herzog fan, but I think Fitzcarraldo easily makes the list. Should anyway. A bigger surprise for me is that there’s no Fassbinder. The Marriage of Maria Braun doesn’t make the top 50? Seriously?

But speaking of surprises, easily the biggest surprise, total jaw-dropper, is that The Mirror is a good bit higher than Rublev! No, seriously, what the hell happened there?

89

novakant 08.08.12 at 4:52 am

John, to an extent I agree that the past thirty years have been underrepresented. There is a simple solution: conduct a similar poll restricted to the past thirty years. But having gone through all the individual lists featured in the print edition, I doubt you would be pleased with the results.

This brings me to your larger point (which somewhat reminds me of the recent debate about “slow cinema”, ironically kicked off by the editor of S&S, see here). When you talk about “films that [don't] matter”, are “culturally marginal” and list that “feels right” I wonder who is supposed to be the arbiter and according to what criteria – and, above all, who cares? People talk about jazz, classical music, philosophy or literature, while the general public is largely and happily ignorant of these matters. I can understand a certain amount of defensiveness being created by the hyperbolic title of the list, but as I said above it is the result of very personal choices by people who clearly love and know a lot about film. How many of the films listed have you actually seen (in my case 50%) and why the urge to discredit them instead of being open for new discoveries? The mighty Wurlitzer of mainstream Hollywood cinema, the Dark Knight fanboys and IMDb top list obsessives already drown out most of the talk about film, so why can’t the cinephiles have their day as well?

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js. 08.08.12 at 5:37 am

The mighty Wurlitzer of mainstream Hollywood cinema, the Dark Knight fanboys and IMDb top list obsessives already drown out most of the talk about film, so why can’t the cinephiles have their day as well?

This. Only. just. this.

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Sam 08.08.12 at 5:43 am

I don’t have the 2002 or 2012 data, but long ago collected all of the individual critics’ and directors’ lists from the 1952-1992 polls here (well, all that were published in Sight and Sound, so not all of them, but a good sample).

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John Holbo 08.08.12 at 5:48 am

“the urge to discredit”

No doubt it came out that way but it wasn’t really intended that way. Or rather, these polls are inherently a kind of moral entrapment. One cannot decently refrain from noting the results are some kind of nonsense – since, as many of the contributing critics have said, one should take the exercise seriously. Yet one can’t.

As to the question of arbitration and who is to? I meant to make the point that no one is. That’s why the list is a blank after the 80’s. I wasn’t speaking for myself. I was trying to guess why the critics failed to converge. The center does not hold after “Star Wars”. This is intended as rough sociology of film criticism, not as meta-critique of the critics. I sympathize with their plight, although i fail to see it as too dire. It’s nice to feel that that what matters to you matters to others and that there is some basis for wider cultural community. But sometimes it doesn’t go that way. Novelists have the same plight. And then there’s poetry.

I doubt I’ve seen more than half of the films on the list and I would of course do myself a favor by checking out a few more.

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Ian 08.08.12 at 6:07 am

I’ve only skimmed the comments here, so perhaps I’m repeating somebody else, but on the fact that the past few decades are underrepresented: I don’t think it has less to do with a lack of consensus and more to do with a lack of conviction. For example, the two 21st century films on the S&S list are #1 and #2 here: http://www.theyshootpictures.com/21stcentury_films1-50.htm. I think there are many recent films which have high critical consensus; yet, when compared to older established masterpieces, they seem to lack intellectual sophistication and artistic boldness. (“Can I in good conscience list this Hollywood blockbuster beside Fellini?”)
I would say this is because modern films which do have sufficient sophistication and boldness are incredibly difficult and very divisive. That films like Satantango or Histoire(s) du cinema made the list, in spite of their strong supporters, is somewhat surprising considering how difficult they are. In the Mood for Love, which strikes a good balance between intellectualism and easy viewing, is much less surprising.

In short, modern films with any sort of consensus are typically artistically weak compared to the older canonical films.

To say something of my own opinion, I find that with almost new high-profile film list like this, there are always complaints about the lack of recent cinema; but I never think this is a problem. The problem with the S&S list is how conservative it is. In spite of the fact that the internet has unearthed so many long-forgotten masterpieces, in spite of the fact that the vibrant online film community is pushing our views of cinema art to new places, we still list the same movies we’ve been listing for decades. Not at all in the spirit of our era!

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Phil 08.08.12 at 9:00 am

bombed blockbusters are still blockbuster-type films. Blockbuster is a genre term

I’m having trouble with this (again). I think it’s historically variable. There used to be something recognisable as a blockbuster-as-cultural-production – spend a lot of money on sets/locations/costumes/extras/all of the above, get some big names, tell an important-sounding story and you’ve got The robe or Cleopatra or Gone with the wind. Now there’s blockbuster-as-industry-product – spend a lot of money on CGI and a lot more on advertising/promotion, get some big names, tell a ‘high concept’ story and hope to make it all back on the opening weekend. (Although everything seems to be judged on whether it ‘opens big’ these days, down to those comedies about a pudgy American bloke and his slightly eccentric flat-mate that seem to be coming out every week.)

So we won’t use ‘blockbuster = massive success’, and that way we’ll be spared a lot of embarrassing rethinking next year when the posthumous tribute reissue of La jetée is playing to packed houses. A blockbuster is a blockbuster: Cleopatra was a blockbuster (type A) before it was released; the Transformers films were blockbusters (type B) as soon as they’d been thought of. But what are the genre markers?

And, more importantly, what about Star Wars? Can you make a blockbuster as a minor director using unknown stars, C-list supporting actors and home-made effects? Was Flash Gordon a blockbuster, or just a camp British eccentricity with an unusually big budget?

Sorry to nag, but if you’re going to say “none of these Xs are Y” I have to ask “how can we tell?”

95

Peter Erwin 08.08.12 at 9:55 am

The Wikipedia article on “blockbusters” notes that the term (which originally referred to massive conventional bombs in WW2) really did mean “massive hit” up through the 1970s, and was applied to plays and novels as well as films.

The more modern, “genre” term (in John Holbo’s sense) has its origins in the 1970s, when the spectacular success of Jaws, reinforced by Star Wars, set the trend for action-adventure spectacles with large budgets, massive coordinated advertising campaigns, and wide summer releases (it really was Jaws that set the pattern for this[*], even though all anyone seems to remember now is Star Wars…).

[*] As John notes, Star Wars had a relatively small opening (43 theaters), in contrast to Jaws’ 409 theaters.

96

Peter Erwin 08.08.12 at 11:13 am

Looking at the Sight & Sound list, one of the striking things about it is how many of the films are from outside the Hollywood system. Half of the top ten films, and 37 out of the top 50, are from outside the US.

Most of the discussion in this thread has focused on changes in Hollywood (e.g., the rise of the summer blockbuster). But the dominance of international films in the list would (naively) suggest that something has gone wrong globally in the last few decades. More specifically, something’s gone wrong with the film industries of France, Italy, and Japan, which together accounted for about half the movies in the list.

(Or possibly something’s gone wrong with the availability of, or access to, foreign films, at among the sorts of critics polled by Sight & Sound? I’d kind of doubt this, given the large number of film festivals that seem to exist, but maybe those don’t provide the same kind of audience or setting as traditional art-cinema houses.)

There don’t seem to be any animated films on the list….

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John Holbo 08.08.12 at 11:14 am

I’m spinning all this stuff off the cuff, so, first and last, people can use ‘blockbuster’ how the hell they like (so don’t say I’m being persnickety!) Obviously the term is a bit sloppy, and has shifted sense over the years.

That said, I was basically saying what this bit from the wikipedia entry says: “Before Jaws set box office records in the summer of 1975, successful films such as Quo Vadis, The Ten Commandments, Gone With the Wind, and Ben-Hur were called blockbusters based purely on the amount of money earned at the box office. Jaws is regarded as the first film of New Hollywood’s ‘blockbuster era’ with its current meaning, implying a film genre.”

I think you might say that, while “Jaws” was the first blockbuster, in the modern financial sense, “Star Wars” did more to lay down the genre template – though that shark was a special effects marvel of the day, I suppose. Maybe I should say ‘after Jaws’ not ‘after Star Wars’. But it doesn’t really matter. The main thing is it happened around then, and a bunch of films kicked off a new era.

98

John Holbo 08.08.12 at 11:17 am

Yes, the lack of any animated film on the list is a real problem. I think I ought to revise my own top 10 accordingly. How about “My Neighbor Totoro”? Surely no objections! I saw that “Spirited Away” made the cut if you click Ian’s link, above, to critically acclaimed 21st Century films

99

bob mcmanus 08.08.12 at 11:45 am

96: something’s gone wrong with the film industries of France, Italy, and Japan

Can’t speak to France or Italy, but:

Cinema of Japan

“The 1970s saw the cinema audience drop due to the spread of television. Total audience declined from 1.2 billion in 1960 to 0.2 billion in 1980″

(Whether the cause is really, or completely, television or also demographics can be argued.)

A lot of art films, or just domestic dramas and melodramas, are now financed by gov’t and television, or some combination or consortium of same. Check carefully the production credits for a Kitano, Haneke, or Kiarostami.

David Bordwell is good on the history and economics of Int’l Cinema.

100

bexley 08.08.12 at 1:09 pm

What I find interesting is that animation doesn’t get a look in and nobody here seems to think it should. If we’re talking about films that could make the list and were made in the last 20 years you’d think there would be some love for Pixar.

101

Phil 08.08.12 at 1:21 pm

I thought about Wall-E, and then I was reminded of the bit in A portrait of the artist when Stephen’s friend talks about appreciating Praxiteles’s Venus and especially the arse on her.

Hypothesis: the Critics are consciously or otherwise disqualifying all films that make you go “phwoar” or “aargh!” or “aw, cute!” at any point. Second hypothesis: all contemporary blockbusters are designed to make at least part of their audience go “phwoar” and “aargh!” and “aw, cute!” at least once. And that’s what’s different about films since Jaws, and that’s why there are so few of them in the list, and that’s how you beat Capone… no, sorry.

102

John Holbo 08.08.12 at 1:29 pm

“animation doesn’t get a look in and nobody here seems to think it should.”

I don’t think anyone has expressed outright disapproval of animation, have they? Probably we should have discussed it more. Clearly it deserves a look in. To some degree – in the Pixar case – it’s a subvarietal of blockbuster, so some of it has been said, by implication.

103

trevelyan 08.08.12 at 1:48 pm

I count three masterpieces in the last decade: Pan’s Labyrinth, 2046, and Inception.

104

Peter Erwin 08.08.12 at 1:51 pm

I’m tempted to say that the Sight & Sound list might reflect inherent biases against genre films (of which there are very few — e.g., just one Western?) and against animation (not even Fantasia?). The latter, I suppose, could reflect the traditional Anglo-American perception that animation is really just for kids and thus incapable of being “serious” cinema; both Pixar and the growth of anime in Japan might be overlooked for this reason.

105

novakant 08.08.12 at 4:20 pm

But the dominance of international films in the list would (naively) suggest that something has gone wrong globally in the last few decades. More specifically, something’s gone wrong with the film industries of France, Italy, and Japan, which together accounted for about half the movies in the list.

I don’t think this list is in any way indicative of the state of the film industry in the past decades.

The French for instance are doing really well, due to a strong domestic market, some amazing talent and a unique system of film funding. And the film output ranges from blockbusters and genre films to art-house with a very large middle ground. The Scandinavian countries have also been very strong (relative to their size) in recent years. And while the German film industry seems to be in a constant state of malaise, there are nevertheless some interesting films being produced on a regular basis.

That said, the golden days when people queued around the block in New York to watch the new Fellini are definitely over and the language barrier seems to be ever more insurmountable – but on the up side you can get almost anything on Amazon.

Just out of interest, has anyone here based in the US heard of these recent films/directors:

Paolo Sorrentino (Consequences of Love, Il Divo) Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool), Jacques Audiard (The Beat that my Heart Skipped, A Prophet) Fatih Akin (Head On, Edge of Heaven) Olivier Assayas (Carlos) Susanne Bier (Brothers, In a Better World) Christian Petzold (The State I Am In, Yella) Ole Bornedal (Just Another Love Story) Joachim Trier (Oslo 31 August) Per Fly (Inheritance) Hans-Christian Schmid (Requiem) Mia Hansen-Love (Father of My Children) Guillaume Canet (Tell No One) Cédric Klapisch (Paris), Fred Cavayé (Anything for Her)

106

bob mcmanus 08.08.12 at 5:35 pm

105.last

Seem Swimming Pool, liked it, noticed but forgot the director
Heard of A Prophet, haven’t gotten around to it
Fuck yeah Fatih Akin. Seen Head-On three times, Edge of Heaven twice.
I liked Bier’s After the Wedding.
Requiem did not impress

Sundance channel helps a little.

107

JW Mason 08.08.12 at 6:09 pm

maybe film was just better before Star Wars; George Lucas (and Spielberg) ruined everything forever.

Maybe there actually were more great films made in some decades than in others? or maybe, at least, that’s what the polled critics honestly believe? Holbo seems to be ruling this possibility out a priori, but I’m not sure on what grounds.

Also, since the way the thing works is each person submits an unweighted list of ten movies, the list is necessarily going to be based on breadth rather than intensity of support. It’s not surprising that it takes a while for a consensus to form. It’s quite possible that the lists of the individual participants include just as many movies from the 2000s as from the 1940s, and that the overweighting of the older vintages just reflects the fact that there is more of a consensus about which movies among them are the best. Is that so strange?

There’s really no reason to think that critics have an arbitrary or snobbish preference for older movies.

And of course arthouse movies are, on balance, better. Otherwise what would be the point of them?

108

JW Mason 08.08.12 at 6:10 pm

I count three masterpieces in the last decade: Pan’s Labyrinth, 2046, and Inception.

Is this a joke? Inception wasn’t even good.

109

Akshay 08.08.12 at 6:22 pm

On animation: Snow White should at least be in there on the “historical importance” criterion, but apparently too few people put it on their top ten list. The main problem I see is that the obvious critical consensus works of genius to nominate are short form films by Yuri Norshteyn, like Tale of Tales, and Hedgehog in the fog. This stuff is poetic, it’s hypnotic, it’s intense man! But I guess it’s too short to count as a full movie. I hope against hope he will succeed in completing The Overcoat before his death, and they’ll nominate it and/or his collected works on the list. But anyway, when your genre’s official genius is too perfectionist and too poor to make long movies, you’re left with a dilemma.

But even for Disney: I’ll wager Dumbo is the most critically acclaimed of his works, and it’s pretty short. So what long-form works can you put up there? Grave of the Fireflies might be the Japanese entry, but I haven’t seen it yet. Need to stock up on tissues first.

For recent animation, I was most impressed by Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, a transporting movie, and Nina Paley’s one-woman-produced ultra-low-budget epic Sita Sings The Blues.

110

Substance McGravitas 08.08.12 at 6:30 pm

Here’s a podcast about perfect movies by two nerds and a somewhat square host. The nerds are a storyboard artist for the Coen brothers and a Library of Congress film archivist. Their voices can be kinda hard to take and the sound engineer who records them needs a little help but they’re enthused and knowledgeable. If you subscribe via the NPR feed (rather than their website) I think you can get all the half-hour shows, one movie per show, whereas their site only keeps the recent ones. Their idea of perfection is somewhat time reliant, so I guess they’re adventurous in choosing about 30 movies since Star Wars.

111

Keith Edwards 08.08.12 at 6:42 pm

Well, if we’re going to include animation then yes, the Toy Story trilogy and My Neighbor Totoro will push a few titles into the 11-20 bracket. Though I tend to have a separate best of animation list, not because I think they should be segregated, but because Studio Ghibli and Pixar have at least 10 movies between them that could fill all ten slots. And sometimes I’m in the mood for animation and sometimes I’m not. There’s a categorical difference between the two types of movies, even if they are attempting to perform the same function.

112

Keith Edwards 08.08.12 at 6:55 pm

I’ll wager Dumbo is the most critically acclaimed of his works…

In what dark time line is Dumbo more critically acclaimed than Cinderella, Snow White or Sleeping Beauty? Sure, the gender politics of the Big 3 aren’t exactly progressive (or even very modern) but it beats the hell out of 75 minutes of racist jokes and DT flashbacks.

113

bob mcmanus 08.08.12 at 7:07 pm

112: Pinocchio is now considered the peak of early Disney, both artistically and thematically.

114

Ed 08.08.12 at 7:40 pm

Partisan @68: exactly. This is the Modern Library’s list of the best novels since 1900: http://bit.ly/cVCosx, and the most recent thing in the top ten is even older than ‘2001’: ‘Catch 22′, published in 1961. The list is a little older, from 1998, I think, but I would bet that if you polled the same pundits again, nothing from the intervening 14 years would break into that top ten.

Phil @101: “the Critics are disqualifying films that make people go ‘phwoar!’….” That’s certainly not true in the case of ‘Mulholland Drive’, which is the second-highest rated film of the 21st century. (The highest-rated, in fact, if you want to start the 21st century in 2001.) Indeed, I would suspect the phwoar factor, if you will, helped keep it in critics’ minds when they came to vote. That and the fact that it’s about the movie business, which naturally makes it more interesting to people in the movie business.

More generally, the widespread suspicion of “elite appreciation” in evidence on this thread seems a bit odd. When Republicans fulminate against elite understanding of evolution or economics, they tend to be given pretty short shrift around here.

More interesting than “why so few modern blockbusters?” might be another question: “why so few by women directors?”

115

Nine 08.08.12 at 8:07 pm

novakant @105

FWIW I’ve seen a good 80 % of the movies on that list. Some were interesting (The Beat that my Heart Skipped), some were dreadful (Just Another Love Story) and some were uniquely euro-dreadful (Inheritance); most were about so-so. I’d say there’s more interesting work coming out of East Asia – China, S. Korea, HK, Thailand (yes, Apichatpong Weerasethakul) etc. It may just be that, at this point, European cinema has a deeper tradition to live up to than most others.

116

Josh G. 08.08.12 at 8:20 pm

Ed # 114: “More generally, the widespread suspicion of “elite appreciation” in evidence on this thread seems a bit odd. When Republicans fulminate against elite understanding of evolution or economics, they tend to be given pretty short shrift around here.

The difference is that in the physical sciences, there is objective truth and falsity; evolution really did happen, it’s not just a social construct. In economics, it’s a bit fuzzier, but we can say that based on an actual past track record, some systems work well and some don’t. (Of course, this is always provisional, and can be revised on the basis of new empirical evidence.) We give Republicans short shrift in these areas because they just make shit up because it’s ideologically convenient.

On the other hand, there is no objective aesthetics. (One of the few people who ever tried to develop one was Ayn Rand, and it was of course a total disaster.) You can make a reasonably objective argument that one film was more or less influential than another, backing this up with citations and references, but whether a film was better in the sense of evoking pleasant feelings or positive emotions in its audience is a purely subjective thing. Since it’s subjective, vox populi, vox dei. There is no reason to think that self-appointed film critics have any better taste than the rest of us, and every reason to think that they are motivated to be as obscurantist as possible.

117

AcademicLurker 08.08.12 at 8:22 pm

@114

The Readers’ choice list that’s next to the ML list is fantastic.

Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard for the win!

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JW Mason 08.08.12 at 8:31 pm

the widespread suspicion of “elite appreciation” in evidence on this thread seems a bit odd. When Republicans fulminate against elite understanding of evolution or economics, they tend to be given pretty short shrift around here.

Agree. Altho I think this is about the OP more than the commenters.

119

JW Mason 08.08.12 at 8:32 pm

(I’m sorry to see that Josh G. disagrees on this. Altho maybe not, it’s boring to agree with someone on everything.)

120

Substance McGravitas 08.08.12 at 8:32 pm

but whether a film was better in the sense of evoking pleasant feelings or positive emotions in its audience is a purely subjective thing

That’s the measure of a film? One of the few films I own – on pristine videotape! – is Happiness which is not so happy. Mind you I should probably give Battlefield Earth and Atlas Shrugged another look.

121

Ed 08.08.12 at 8:42 pm

@117 Yes! I am sorry: I had meant to leave a warning about that readers’ list. CT-ers of a sensitive disposition may find it distressing.

122

js. 08.08.12 at 8:52 pm

There is no reason to think that self-appointed film critics have any better taste than the rest of us, and every reason to think that they are motivated to be as obscurantist as possible.

Well, there’s reason to think that their opinions are better informed. And I’d even say that there’s reason to think that their tastes are better cultivated, and reading critics with a sensibility not to dissimilar to one’s own can be quite helpful in better understanding & appreciating films.

More to the point, though, the list is anything but obscurantist. Almost all of the films are extremely well-known, easily available on DVD, and at best 3 or 4 of them are genuinely “difficult”. I mean, I suppose you could define anything not directed by Spielberg, say, as obscurantist, but that would just be unfortunate.

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js. 08.08.12 at 8:58 pm

novakant @105:

I’ve probably seen films by about 50% of the directors on that list, and generally my response would mirror Nine’s (@115), but more importantly: Carlos! I like Assayas a lot generally, but Carlos was immense. If I were picking recent masterpieces, that would be damn near top of the list.

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Thrasymachus 08.08.12 at 9:49 pm

J.W. Mason @107 has it right. It seems to me that there are relatively few films made in the past 30 years that are likely to enter the canon, and I don’t see how anyone can rule out this possibility on a priori grounds.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the work of some individual directors. John Ford made Stagecoach in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath in 1940 and How Green Was My Valley in 1941. Kurosawa made Rashomon in 1950, Ikiru in 1952 and Seven Samurai in 1954. Bergman made Smiles of a Summer Night in 1955, The Seventh Seal in 1956 and Wild Strawberries in 1957. Hitchcock made Vertigo in 1958, North By Northwest in 1959 and Psycho in 1960. Truffaut made The 400 Blows in 1959, Shoot The Piano Player in 1960 and Jules and Jim in 1961. Would any defender of contemporary cinema care to cite comparable works produced by a single director in a recent short period?

It is true that it may take some time for critical dust to settle, and that critical opinion of some films (e.g. Vertigo) has been steadily revised upward over the past few decades. That is not true for all films, however. For instance, Rashomon and The Seventh Seal were instantly hailed as all-time classics when they were first released. No film in the past two decades has generated that sort of critical excitement.

125

Ed 08.08.12 at 10:13 pm

Josh G @116: what js said @122. There is every reason to think that people who spend their lives watching and thinking about films will know more about them than the rest of us do.

And as a point of fact, most film critics are not “self-appointed”. The professional ones certainly aren’t. Harry Knowles and his ilk are, I suppose, and S&S’s widening of the franchise for its poll may mean that a few amateur bloggers etc are included, but I would guess they are in a minority. As S&S puts it, it used “simple chains of recommendation” to choose its electorate, so charges of cultural homogeneity and group-think could possibly be made to stick. The idea that critics are being deliberately “obscurantist” in order to gratify their lust for fame lacks any evidence to support it.

If anything, the incentives go the other way. As in academia, the way to make a name for yourself as a critic is to challenge conventional wisdom, as Godard and Chabrol did when they championed Hitchcock in the 1950s.

Look at Zizek’s top ten, for example, which he boasts makes “no compromises with high quality or good taste”. That’s not entirely true, but he does include ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Dune’ and ‘The Fountainhead’!

On which subject, if you ever wanted proof that vox populi /= vox dei, that Modern Library list of readers’ favourite books of the 20th century should settle it forever.

126

John Holbo 08.08.12 at 10:26 pm

“And of course arthouse movies are, on balance, better. Otherwise what would be the point of them?”

Ah, you had me going for a minute there …

127

John Holbo 08.08.12 at 10:31 pm

“Look at Zizek’s top ten, for example, which he boasts makes “no compromises with high quality or good taste”. That’s not entirely true, but he does include ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Dune’ and ‘The Fountainhead’!”

My hatred of Zizek has occasionally been diagnosed – by myself as well as others – as a case of narcissism of little differences. This thought is reinforced by the knowledge that I came close to including “Dune” in my own Top 10 list, above. But, having played French Horn in a high school production of “The Sound of Music”, I know better than to think well of that one.

128

Lee A. Arnold 08.08.12 at 10:31 pm

The first half of “Dune” is one of the great set-design experiences, with styles distinguishing the different planets. The short scene that introduces the villain, Baron Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) stands by itself, perfect, unique, delirious.

129

Steve Williams 08.08.12 at 10:54 pm

‘The idea that critics are being deliberately “obscurantist” in order to gratify their lust for fame lacks any evidence to support it.’

I’d go beyond that, and say it fails the laugh test. There are some magazines for people who take film deeply seriously as an art-form – Sight & Sound, Cahiers du Cinema, Senses of Cinema etc – but the %age of critics working at these publications isn’t that large. The vast majority of film critics work in publications where, how to put this, they are not paid to insult their readership’s intelligence.

130

Ed 08.08.12 at 10:58 pm

I watched ‘Dune’ hoping to love it, so that Zizek-style I could proclaim it as a neglected masterpiece. (I adore the book, which I thought would help.) As you say, it looks wonderful at first, thanks to that awe-inspiring design, like nothing else I’ve ever seen on screen. It soon becomes clear, though, that it is a horrible, horrible mess. The voice-over is disastrous. It feels as though Lynch really needed about nine hours to tell the story. One day, someone will do it right.

John H, judging by your views on film, if you have any interest in rock you might enjoy the work of Chuck Eddy, a sparkling writer who has made a career out of explaining why Def Leppard and Poison are better than Sonic Youth and Public Enemy.

There’s a good example of his work here: http://bit.ly/ni0Ysi

131

John Holbo 08.08.12 at 11:02 pm

One interesting data point on the elite side is that critical opinion has consistently shied away from box office winners and, at least for the first half of the century, the critics were proved mostly right about that. At least we all tend to think so now, I think. There has been no groundswell of revisionism, seeking belated canonization of once-popular films that were denied due credit in their day by critical snobs, unable to perceive a diamond in the low-brow rough (to mix minerology with physiognomy). Perhaps this is because, thanks to the critics, we don’t watch these old box office smashes of yore. But I don’t think that’s the whole story. If there were plausible stories to be told about how old popular film was terribly critically neglected, contemporary critics would delight in being all over the story. But, by and large, the films from the 10-40’s that were thought to be great at the time are still thought to be so today, and the ones thought to be merely popular but not actually good now seem that way to us today. There are shifts of course. Griffith’s star has fallen, but it hasn’t totally set. But, then again, Griffith made blockbusters … which could suggest 1) snobbery has become more intense, i.e. we’re still retroactively culling the popular ones; 2) snobbery ought to have been even more intense (since it obviously would have been better if critics had been even bigger snobs than they were 50 years ago). So 3) history suggests that critics, if they want to be right, ought to intensify their anti-populist snobbery, rather than relax it.

I’m not historically knowledgeable enough to be sure that the generalizations I just made about critical judgments are true (in the sense of historically accurate about trends in criticism.) And obviously my syllogism about critical truth in a non-historical sense should be taken with however large a mountain of salt as you please. After you’ve dosed yourself with sodium: what do you think?

132

John Holbo 08.08.12 at 11:10 pm

“The voice-over is disastrous. It feels as though Lynch really needed about nine hours to tell the story.”

Yes!

“Chani and Paul’s love grew.”

That’s why it can’t be on the list. It’s an HBO series before it’s time.

133

John Holbo 08.08.12 at 11:11 pm

It’s also an attempt to make a non-blockbuster type blockbuster. One of my prized possessions is my film tie-in “Dune” coloring book for kids.

134

Ed 08.08.12 at 11:14 pm

After ‘Game of Thrones’, surely it’s a gimme?

135

GeoX 08.09.12 at 1:30 am

In what dark time line is Dumbo more critically acclaimed than Cinderella, Snow White or Sleeping Beauty? Sure, the gender politics of the Big 3 aren’t exactly progressive (or even very modern) but it beats the hell out of 75 minutes of racist jokes and DT flashbacks.

I couldn’t speak to general critical acclaim, but I will note that, while Snow White is unimpeachable, Cinderella is flippin’ terrible, and Sleeping Beauty gets by to the extent that it does solely based on animation quality. Dumbo is a lovely little film, racist elements notwithstanding.

‘Course, my favorite early Disney movie is The Three Caballeros, so I might just be weird that way.

136

John Holbo 08.09.12 at 3:11 am

I say “Sleeping Beauty”. The proof is that I’m sure the wikipedia article for no other Disney film contains the phrase: “Disney gave him a significant amount of freedom in designing …” The individual in question is Eyvind Earle, very deserving of critical acclaim. Thus do we critique Uncle Walt for his faults while praising him for his virtues: two birds with one stone is good, when you are only allowed 10 stones. On the other hand, if you want to say “Cinderella”, substituting Mary Blair for Earle, that’s ok. No other choices are fully defensible, as Disney choices! (You see how I’m turning out like every other critic, when push comes to shove. You could say “The Little Mermaid”, because it marked the renaissance of high-quality major feature animation. But why mark the renaissance and not the naissance? Thus I end up drawing the line: nothing after 1960!)

137

GeoX 08.09.12 at 4:53 am

But the title character in Sleeping Beauty is too asleep most of the time to make much impression (I like Merryweather, but that’s about all). And Cinderella has those horrible talking vermin, as well as a love story that, even by Disney standards, is awfully damned limp. And if I were talking about the Disney renaissance, I wouldn’t say The Little Mermaid; I would say Beauty and the Beast, which may well be the best overall.

138

John Holbo 08.09.12 at 5:10 am

“I would say Beauty and the Beast, which may well be the best overall.”

Plus I use it to torment my bookish, Disney-disliking brunette wife, named Belle, by making my children sing “that girl is very strange.”

139

Michael Harris 08.09.12 at 5:12 am

For Greg and Uncle Kvetch way up yonder, here are my Top Ten Brian Eno Party Songs.

1. Here He Comes
2. Burning Airlines Give You So Much More
3. On Some Faraway Beach
4. I’ll Come Running
5. Needles in the Camel’s Eye
6. Baby’s On Fire
7. The True Wheel
8. Driving Me Backwards
9. Mother Whale Eyeless
10. Help Me Somebody

Chillout after-party track: The Belldog

Further chillout: something, you know, ambient.

So, here’s a thought about the movie list. Why not another post (it’ll need a fresh one) rating movies from the last 30 years. Say, best films since 1970. And then you can argue about which ones might make it into a longer-run, larger canon.

140

Lee A. Arnold 08.09.12 at 5:20 am

Yes, I wouldn’t recommend the last half of Dune.

141

Lee A. Arnold 08.09.12 at 5:25 am

I really like films where the director extends the intellect to using the surface of the screen image, i.e. the succession and the plasticity of shapes, for a new audience effect. Such as widening the connotation, or finding a new style of story structure. Consequently my gods are Ozu, Bresson, and Fellini. I don’t find it among many current filmmakers. It is not just emotional ability, these people had an intellectual development and curiosity that extended into changing how to tell a story or changing how the moving image gives emotion. There is analogy to music. That explains how I get to some of my Top 25, with the proviso that I haven’t seen much new stuff (such as by Abbas Kiarostami, Tsai Ming-liang, Apichatpong Weerasethakul):

Chaplin-The Gold Rush (1925) & City Lights (1931), Keaton-The General (1926), Lubitsch-Trouble in Paradise (1932) & To Be or Not to Be (1942), Renoir-The Rules of the Game (1939), Frank Capra-Meet John Doe (1941), Cocteau-Orpheus (1950), Donen-Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Ozu-Tokyo Story (1953) & Good Morning (1959), Ray-Pather Panchali (1955), Ford-The Searchers (1956), Fellini-8 1/2 (1963) & Amarcord (1973), Welles-Chimes at Midnight [Falstaff] (1965), Bresson-Au hasard Balthazar (1966) & Mouchette (1967), Kubrick-2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Tarkovsky-Stalker (1979), Morris-The Thin Blue Line (1988), Malick-The Thin Red Line (1998), Koreeda-After Life (1998), Lynch-Inland Empire (2006).

Perhaps it will become harder to find new ideas, as time goes by. The middle section of Malick’s Tree of Life is good. Scorsese’s King of Comedy (1983) found a new kind of character in the world, which I think must be very hard to do, like inventing Sherlock Homes. I have a sweet spot for stylish, “meaningful” 1970’s entertainments–I suppose this is related to my own coming of age: I really admire Penn’s Little Big Man (1970), Chinatown (1974), and especially Altman’s Long Goodbye (1973) and California Split (1974), which I still think are Altman’s most interesting films, the remarkable capture of an evanescent mood.

California Split is out of print, and used DVD’s are selling at Amoeba in Hollywood for $35-$40.

I love the actors and craftsmanship in stuff like Casablanca and The Godfather, but I don’t think the films are interesting as inventions. So maybe there ought to be a list of the 50 greatest melodramas.

142

JW Mason 08.09.12 at 5:36 am

Morris-The Thin Blue Line (1988), Malick-The Thin Red Line (1998)

Not to mention Havrilesky The Thin Pink Line.

143

Patrick 08.09.12 at 6:04 am

Dune’s been done as a mini-series. My son and I liked it, and we both adore the book. It had William Hurt and a really low budget, as I recall. A & E?

144

Patrick 08.09.12 at 6:09 am

Sci-Fi channel.

145

Salient 08.09.12 at 7:49 am

But what the hell, let’s do fake science!

Now you’re thinking like a mathematician! :)

Even disregarding precisely how ‘good’ and ‘best’ are evaluated, and just assuming that an ordering is possible, a “best of” list will always skew old. All you need is a long enough time horizon; the minimum quantity necessary to qualify as Top 10 is a monotonically increasing function of time. So long as your measure of quality is meaningful enough to ensure the distribution of quality is not close to uniform, it doesn’t even matter much whether the distribution of quality is normal or exponential or what have you; surpassing the maximum (or “tenth beneath maximum” or “fiftieth beneath maximum” or whatever) will become increasingly difficult as time passes. And since you can scale time, it doesn’t matter whether you look at movies over 50 years’ time or literature over 400 years’ time, so long as lots and lots of things were produced in the time span you’re considering.

The only real requirement is that the timespan you consider “new” is significantly smaller than half the entire timespan under consideration (so, taking 1982-2012 as new relative to 1922-2012 works, as does 1960-2000 relative to 1600-2000).

And that’s not to mention less abstract stuff like thematic capture, with early works acknowledged as untouchably canonical exemplars of a wide variety of general themes (you could play South Park’s “the Simpsons did it” with literature/theatre — “Shakespeare did it!” — but actually “the Simpsons did it” is a good example for animated TV). If you already have a perfectly good movie that is your stand-in for Movie About X, Y, Z; then other movies about X are less valuable, because you already have that. Old films get all the really general thematic slots (which newer films might get if you constructed a canon by running time backwards). If you’re not lucky enough to get in early, you have to narrow your focus in order to achieve as high a quality rating as the early works; you can’t hope to make the classic about forlorn unrequited love, because we already have that.

And also asymmetrical noise; as more and more old works get forgotten, the really good ones are remembered as better, because of how they stand out relative to all the current movies, utter schlock included, and because of how different they seem, relative to all the current movies. And also 3D CGI.

146

Phil 08.09.12 at 8:40 am

I really like films where the director extends the intellect to using the surface of the screen image, i.e. the succession and the plasticity of shapes, for a new audience effect.

I watched Schindler’s List the other night for the first time. It’s a good film – it’s an unbearably horrible film about unbearable horrors – but the direction and the cinematography ended up irritating the hell out of me. Bright lights, dark shadows, long takes, scenes without dialogue, jump cuts – Spielberg seems to have seen some good films and noted down the techniques they used, without noticing what those films did with those techniques. No poetry in the composition, no rhythm in the cutting, no imagery to speak of.

But I’ve always found Spielberg an incredibly *lumpy* director – someone who ploughs up the grammar of film to tell a good story, and then doesn’t even do that. (You may not want to get me started on George Lucas.) I came out with some of this when we were watching War of the Worlds on TV, reeling off some of the things the film wasn’t doing. The consensus in the rest of the family was “So? It’s not that sort of film.” No, I shot back*, it’s a badly-made one – but I guess a world-wide gross of $591 million can’t be wrong.

*Silently.

147

Peter Erwin 08.09.12 at 8:50 am

Dune’s been done as a mini-series. My son and I liked it, and we both adore the book. It had William Hurt and a really low budget, as I recall. A & E?

Good lord. I actually bought the DVD of that mini-series on a friend’s recommendation (not being able to watch it on TV, since I was out of the US), and I thought that was rather awful. The director (or possibly the cinematographer) had a fetish for red and/or blue mood lighting of scenes (which destroyed any attempt to suggest that a scene might be outdoors on a planet, as opposed to something shot on a set), the fight scenes were done with unusual incompetence, and the costume designer was really keen on Bizarre Hats.

(Yes, it had William Hurt — in full sleepwalking mode, alas. Looking at imdb, I notice that Matt Keesler of “Middleman” was in it, but otherwise no one terribly interesting.)

148

Lee A. Arnold 08.09.12 at 2:27 pm

I only liked the first half of Schindler’s List, too.

149

Lee A. Arnold 08.09.12 at 2:28 pm

Sometimes, as soon as the plot engine revs up, these things go downhill for me.

150

Lee A. Arnold 08.09.12 at 2:30 pm

Actually I think that was Kubrick’s problem too. He had to put butts in seats. Clockwork Orange almost makes my list, but not quite. Clockwork Orange is very interesting. None of the reviewers ever noticed that it is a very tight symphony of surface color. It starts out nearly in black and white, the dolly shot in the Korova Milk Bar, and slowly builds to a clashing crescendo of color at the mid point, where a blue wall meets a red one at Alex’s parent’s apartment http://xahlee.org/Periodic_dosage_dir/lacru/_p/j_h_lynch/clockwork_orange_lynch_2.jpg –where he is turned away and emotionally distraught. Then the film slowly drains of color again until the last scenes are muted, almost black and white, and all the officious clock-workers have orange neckwear. I think this is a deliberate plastic experiment to see if it would do something to the audience. Throughout the film, Kubrick also uses his symmetrical traveling dolly shot as an attempt to suggest psychological transformation, which he found in the trenches in Paths of Glory and then used in the star corridor of 2001 and again in The Shining. However, I’m not sure that many people can feel these effects in the same way that, say, Bresson’s effects are both integral and successful. Spielberg has said in interviews that Kubrick was always talking on the phone about finding new ways to tell stories. One of my theories about Kubrick is that 2001 blew HIS mind, and not just everyone else’s. It got him to the tantalizing edge of how you might make meaning out of moving shapes, and he kept trying to reapproach it. The problem was, in filmmaking terms he appears to have been a “process” director, sort of scientific and mechanical. After he chose the story, he just did massive research and endless reshoots to find interesting tidbits. 2001 was shaped by accident, by eliminating tons of dialogue, but I feel that his later films are emotionally sort of hit or miss.

151

Lee A. Arnold 08.09.12 at 2:33 pm

Sorry, now that link won’t work. Google “clockwork orange alex parents” and hit the images button. It is metallic blue and red, almost at the precise middle of the film.

152

Ed 08.09.12 at 4:07 pm

Michael Harris @139: that sounds like a great evening.

But surely ‘Third Uncle’ to get the party started?

153

Phil 08.09.12 at 7:24 pm

Kubrick was a slow, methodical director obsessed with the look of things, who made slow, methodical films that dwell obsessively on the look of things. Sometimes – actually, quite a lot of times – the subject matter he chose is at such a sharp angle to this approach that the result is brilliant. Perhaps that was what he kept looking for – not so much stories that he could tell his way as stories that would be interestingly wrong to tell his way.

154

nvalvo 08.09.12 at 7:44 pm

Eno’s had his defense from Michael Harris and Ed, but I’d add that while Eno’s solo work is more for chilling than partying, in the producer’s booth, he spun some pure party gold in his work with David Bowie.

And Greg, I listen to some Robert Johnson, usually while cooking, pretty regularly. Hell, he only recorded 29 tracks. I probably listen to his complete works every month.

155

Dave Maier 08.09.12 at 8:49 pm

My fave recent directors are:

Edward Yang (best known for Yi Yi, because it was actually released (!) stateside, but my favorite was A Brighter Summer Day)
Jia Zhangke (dating back to Platform, but Still Life was a kick in the head too)
Hong Sangsoo
the Dardenne brothers (The Son is my favorite by a hair)
Philippe Garrel
Marco Bellocchio
Lucrecia Martel
Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Shinya Tsukamoto (an insane person, but he makes wild films)
Alexandr Sokurov
Claire Denis
Lynne Ramsay
Carlos Reygadas
plus Akin and Audiard as someone mentioned.

German films, don’t remember the directors: Revanche, Everyone Else, Summer ’04, Yella (this one’s Peitzold, I do remember that), Free Radicals.

Also, seen recently: Bab’ Aziz, City of Life and Death, United Red Army, Gilles’ Wife, Beeswax, Times and Winds (this is “Bes Vakit” as mentioned above; dir. Reha Erdem), Turn Me On Dammit!

So I have no complaints about the present.

156

novakant 08.09.12 at 10:31 pm

Yeah, “Everyone Else” was amazing, “Revanche” very good.

I also liked “I am Love”, “Blue Valentine”, “Two Lovers” and “Mesrine” a lot.

157

Dave Maier 08.09.12 at 11:07 pm

I saw “I am Love” just last week! Tilda Swinton is amazing – check her out in “We Have to Talk About Kevin”.

158

Ed 08.09.12 at 11:15 pm

nvolavo @154: Well if we’re allowing Eno as collaborator…. If you’re not playing this at your party, there’s no point inviting me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1wg1DNHbNU

Also, for no particular reason other than that it’s the greatest musical performance ever recorded on film (Eno not on stage, but a co-writer): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KQjy02eqOk

If you’re in the UK, you may have noticed the heavy use of ‘Heroes’ as a feel-good anthem for Team GB’s Olympians, too.

I have to admit, Robert Johnson isn’t exactly conducive to a jolly social gathering, though.

159

Ed 08.09.12 at 11:21 pm

And nvalvo, apologies for getting your name wrong

160

sanbikinoraion 08.10.12 at 10:57 am

Looking at the “They Shoot Pictures” list (and being approximately 30 myself), I think I might simply never bother watching a film older than I am again; there’s plenty of fantastic-looking stuff to be getting on with.

(Although – damn – Star Wars 4&5 are out, on that metric; perhaps I’ll just have to restrict myself to the Special Editions…)

161

David J. Littleboy 08.10.12 at 2:27 pm

“unable to perceive a diamond in the low-brow rough (to mix minerology with physiognomy).”

Speaking of low-brow roughage, John Cusac and Kevin Spacey are (together and separately) building a rather impressive collection of enjoyable low and middle-brow roughage. I doubt any of it’s top-100 material, though. The problem is that it’s tough to do romantic comedy better than Katherine Hepburn and film noir better than the real thing.

Top 100 is hard. There’s a ton of older Japanese stuff that deserves to be in the top 100: just about everything Kurosawa did through Dodeskaden is top-100 material (Stray Dog, Record of a Living Being, The Hidden Fortress, The Bad Sleep Well are all amazing), and there’s gobs of other great stuff as well, although I’m not aware of anything post-Dodeskaden by anyone else that’s up there. (Non-Kurosawa favorites here include “The Profound Desire of the Gods” and the original 1958 version of “The Ballad of Narayama”, although the key scene at the end wasn’t subtitled in the print I saw, and requires being able to read Japanese to get what he was saying: oops.)
There has been a recent series here, “ALWAYS San-Chome no Yuhi”, the first one of which at least was diamond-in-the-roughage class. An amazing CG recreation of early post-war Japan just as things were getting going again, featuring the best performances of their carreers from some otherwise uninspired actors. (Momoe Yamaguchi’s hubby as the spitting image of my father in-law (a rural primary-care physician who passed away this year at 97) down to the motorbike physicians used in those days to make house calls). And a bunch of subplots that had almost identical real-life counterpoints in my wife’s family, e.g. as a 12-year old, my brother in-law ran away from home (briefly) to help one of his classmates search for his mother, who had run off from their family.

In another digression, Tokyo Story is being remade with the island my in-laws live on (and their Buddhist (Jodoshinshu) temple, which is seriously gorgeous**) as the rural location. Remakes are usually horrifically horrible*, so about the only good news is that it might give a boost to the island’s fizzling economy. (The island is “Osaki Kamijima”, a very pretty place.)

**: http://www.pbase.com/davidjl/image/26074520/large

*: About the only counterexample I’ve ever run across was H.Ford’s Sabrina remake. The original struck me as hokey and unbelievable with Bogey seeming like an unattractive lout, whereas Ford’s version is within the range where suspension of belief works and one can enjoy it.

Speaking of H.Ford, Regarding Henry and Random Hearts are definately diamond-in-the-roughage class, although the vast majority of his work isn’t. But I’m a sucker for maudlin sentimentality (a prerequisite for living in Japan).

162

David J. Littleboy 08.10.12 at 2:32 pm

Oh, yes. Both Casablanca and the even better A Night in Casablanca need to be on everyone’s top 100 list.

163

John Holbo 08.11.12 at 1:11 am

“John Cusac and Kevin Spacey are (together and separately) building a rather impressive collection of enjoyable low and middle-brow roughage.”

“Tape Heads”! (Waffles is just pancakes with little squares on ‘em!)

That’s the pretentious, just trying to be contrarian answer, of course. The honest answer is: “Better Off Dead”.

Not so much a fan of Spacey’s low-brow stuff. Maybe I should give it a try.

164

JP Stormcrow 08.11.12 at 3:13 am

Truly a sight to behold. A thread beaten. The once great champ, now, a study in moppishness. No longer the victory hungry stallion we’ve read so many times before, but a pathetic, washed up, aged ex-champion.

165

John Holbo 08.11.12 at 6:14 am

It’s too bad that CT stripped out the ‘cosell’ HTML tags Stormcrow tried to use. ‘Moppishness’ really needs both of its ‘p’s aspirated.

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