Friday, August 3, 2012

THE LISTS: Duncan's 25 Greatest Films of All Time

Two days ago marked the enormous milestone of Sight and Sound Magazine's poll of the greatest films of all time. It wasn't quite a matter of what was most at the top, and more of what was on the most Top 10 lists. Given that, it's rather unsurprising what landed at the top, given that it's a much more unanimously acclaimed film than "Citizen Kane", which has suffered from a "top dog fatigue" that most associate it with. Being hailed as the end-all-be-all of cinema takes away some of the wonder from it, like you're not coming upon something fresh for you specifically. It becomes a corporatized experience instead of a personal one. For that reason, "Citizen Kane" just didn't figure into my Top 10, or even 25.

But hey, it's a personal list after all. Not everyone operates under the same criteria, and nobody sticks with the same criteria on every approach at a list. Egregious amounts of ranking with years, decades, and trying to meld those two lists together, ultimately fell apart to a rather hollow and uninteresting list. Going film-by-film asking "Is this better than this?", quickly grew rather tiresome and became an overwhelming chore. A list like this shouldn't come across so mechanically, and it should be a pleasant experience in arriving on certain films rising to the front. So I attempted for a much simpler, far less foolproof approach.

I grabbed films at will, picking them out rather than layering them in upon each other. It was more of a free willed, gut reaction, and spiritually in tune process than a mechanized arriving upon factory responses. I knew that by the end there would be certain flaws that would work themselves out as I wrote about each film. Some of these films I have only seen once, where as others have had numerous times at bat with me. It became very instinctual, and the list I ended up with was really a more personalized statement. The three top films on my list echo with the top ten of Sight and Sound, but it's something I came to realize by myself.

Of course there are more than a few notes to be made on this particular list, like the abundance of recent films in the pot. That's mostly a consequence of experience, since I wasn't as on deck in the past with accessing old films as I was with more recent ones. 9 films on my list are from the past two decades, and two films in my top 10 from the past two years. What was important to me is that every director I most respect get a fair shake in this. Naturally, there were some that I felt very remiss in leaving out by happenstance. I remember loving "12 Angry Men", and I'm sure it'll rank higher in next year's list, along with many other Sidney Lumet films I have to experience. I swear, I'm just a blink away from popping in "Dog Day Afternoon".

I haven't seen a film by Ingmar Bergman, which is a shame since I keep hearing about how brilliant he is, or rather was. In the more recent spectrum, I was sad to leave out the absolute poignancy of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman's achievement in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", as well as "Se7en", David Fincher's unflinching encapsulation of a city rotting away from the inside out and the two men who defend it. It entirely escaped me that "Spirited Away" fell away in the scramble, and such a shame for a film I hold so much passion for. I'd have loved to find placement for "Weekend", which may be better than a couple films on this list, but it just didn't have as much a place in the works. Like I said, this isn't a flawless list, but it is an emotional one.

This list dedicated to YouTube musician Nathan Wills, who took his own life for reasons it is not my place to judge, and I have no interest in doing so. I knew him, and gained some very good times and lessons from him, without ever once meeting him. For his love of doing things from within, this list is for him.

25. "Paths of Glory" (1957)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

The first signs of genius are in the tight and unflinching implementation of this lesser know Kubrick masterpiece. Satirically, though not apathetically, inhuman at times, the truth of war is exposed in its emotionless smiting of its most courageous advocates, and the tragic and visceral performances of the entire cast.

24. "Nenette et Boni" (1996)
Directed by Claire Denis

Arguably Claire Denis' funnest, warmest, and yummiest film, the at times hilarious fluffiness of this piece is merely a smokescreen for the tragically effacing flaws of this hip generation. Gregoire Colin gives a performance that rocks the foundation of human masculinity. Also... BUNNY!

23. "A Clockwork Orange" (1971)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick's most bizarre and full throttle piece of cinematic introspection, what makes a person "human" and "good" are fantastically blurred, with the latter becoming practically insignificant. A sense of joviality is mixed with a sadistic streak to a film that really begs us consideration into how sane we actually are.

22. "Black Swan" (2010)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Talking about crazy! Certainly a bid of personal adoration, but this is the only film that ever gave me an in-theater orgasm. A fragile, binding, trippy, gorgeous, terrifying, and soaring tale of self-creation that elicits further passion upon each renewed viewing. "I just want to be perfect." In my book you succeeded, girl.

21. "The Godfather" (1972)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Strip away the irritating esteem clotting up the wavelengths, and what you have is film about family. The decisions and consequences of one generation will always pollute the next in ways both obvious and unforeseen. The aching tragedy of Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone turns to utter terror at the newfound cruelty of Al Pacino's Michael. As powerful and personal an organized crime flick as there's ever been.

20. "Boogie Nights" (1997)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

A shift in mindsets sparks the cleanest debate of the importance of film, as well as an exuberant, wild, unexpectedly intense, and 100% honest rollercoaster of emotion, drugs, popularity, fame, and truth within an artform. Hell, just truth in general. There's no bullshit in P.T. Anderson's bloodwork. His characters on the other hand are another story entirely.

19. "Battleship Potemkin" (1925)
Directed by Sergei Eisenstein

The once-and-greatest action film of all time, not least of which because the chaos spurs forth from the most downplayed of human indecencies which sparks a powerful revolution. "Governments should be afraid of their people", a statement many praise "V for Vendetta" as claiming its own. It existed long before that travesty, and it's ownership remains Eisenstein's.

18. "City Lights" (1931)
Directed by Charlie Chaplin

A one-of-a-kind comedian who also made himself known for his humorous, but hardly ignorant, social commentary on the trepidations of the day. The Great Depression was just a hair away, and Chaplin was already prepped to ease the transition with optimism, earnest effort, and winning, teetering on the edge of tragic, heart. Mine melted

17. "Dancer in the Dark" (2000)
Directed by Lars von Trier

Let it be known, for all Lars von Trier's cynicism, he has hope. It's undeniably the force behind his masterful musical drama, constantly laying out the pain and hurt upon our light-hearted protagonist. The musical diversions are ones of absolutely crushing courage, as is Bjork's one-off, tender, voice-cracked lead performance. An ending that ranks as one of the best, and film as rewarding as it is difficult to watch.

16. "West Side Story" (1961)
Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins

While on the subject, three musicals on this list, though this is perhaps the only one without footnote to it. A lively and provocative story of immigrants new and old, where ownership of this country is a baseless smokescreen. It's also the only show I ever wanted to sing music from in high school, but the film takes it to another level. Youth culture learns about the consequences of violence the hard way. Hate conquers all, but love still glimmers on.

15. "White Material" (2010)
Directed by Claire Denis

A living nightmare of a film, though not at all truly painful, oncoming like an inevitable hurricane that sweeps you up and throws you against all the terrors of this world. In no overt terms, the fate of Africa rests in the balance, with Isabelle Huppert's one-sided plantation owner fighting for survival, ownership, and who she wants to be. Old, young, smart, and stupid, nobody escapes.

14. "Barry Lyndon" (1975)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

"The greatest boring movie ever made," says everyone who I made watch Kubrick's period drama. A true statement, but one that undercuts the fully realized integrity at hand. Such a focused and complete account of sufferings, misfortunes, and mishaps not just of the protagonist, but that inadvertently define everyone he comes across. As unbeguiling a figure he may be, an impression is irreversibly made. The movie acts much he same way upon the audience.

13. "Moulin Rouge!" (2000)
Directed by Baz Luhrman

No greater blast exists in cinema to date as the one made by Baz Luhrman's third film, a musical mixing modern day pop and a cultural revolution in France in the most eventful of ways possible. Sucks you into its crazy ideals of love & sex and makes you a believer, if nothing else in the latter. As unapologetic a film that's ever held me with utmost frolic from start to finish.

12. "Drive" (2011)
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

The most exhilarating name in cool, as I can say confidently having seen it north of a dozen times. Brimming on levels introspective, economic, symbolic, tragic, sacrificial, heroic, romantic, familial, or just fucking awesome! A film that doesn't let its top notch style come in the way of getting business done, but rather incorporates it, there are endless things still to be said about "Drive".

11. "Annie Hall" (1977)
Directed by Woody Allen

A blind spot filled in forever, Woody Allen shows just how crazy brilliant he was back in the day. A romance that comes stacked with discrepancies, trying always to live in the lovelier moments, but falling apart as a simple way of life. So is Allen's creed, to find passionate love wherever possible, at any cost. Or else just fuck it all.

10. "Meek's Cutoff" (2011)
Directed by Kelly Reichardt

I can't see Kelly Reichardt's western adventure on the Oregon Trail as anything but epic. With the point of no return reached very early on, the stakes get slowly and steeply higher and drier. Tension is made personal, allegations of everyone's intentions ensue, with even the audience uncertain. A force of nature if ever there was one, until that Quvenzhané character comes my way, that is.

9. "Beau Travail" (1999)
Directed by Claire Denis

Denis' study of environmental and physical impositions upon people, as well as an uncommon interest in those people, lead this to be Denis' booming and implicitly exotic triumph. The problems of men are not made in battle, but in each other, and given all the more epic scope for it. It also raises "Rhythm of the Night" as the song I have to dance to like a crazy person when it comes on.

8. "Bicycle Thieves" (1948)
Directed by Vittorio De Sica

A story of father and son set to the backdrop of a period of desperation, where so much depends on something that seems so small. Real tragedy is the one that the protagonist isn't too one-sided to ignore, and it grows in them like a cancer. It's a condition of growing pain and shame, devastating in its refusal of a clean getaway. Is innocence enough to get by in this world?

7. "Raging Bull" (1980)
Directed by Martin Scorsese

He fought like hell, for all the wrong reasons. Scorsese is the king of "rise and fall" stories, that show the protagonist at the top of their game, and then the bottom of the heap. What happens when you get everything? Marty comes at this with nails bared, aggressively, veraciously tearing apart the world as Jake ceaselessly tears apart himself. Each turn of redemption is regretted. Forever blind, but we see.

6. "Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" (1975)
Directed by Chantal Akerman

If you sat all the way through Chantal Akerman's glacially-paced domestic piece of your own volition, Bravo! This brilliant-in-repetition object of bold cinema challenges the audience to stick it out and look deeper at what's going on. Feel the pain in every bit of its tedium, and crave the shocking and abrupt conclusion it gives. Only seen it once, but it's rarely apart from my memory.

5. "The Illusionist" (2010)
Directed by Sylvain Chomet

A film from another era, landing inexplicably in our own, the natural beauty of its artistry an illusion of its own reality. Jacques Tati's last feature is a rousing, transportive, and melancholy tale of shifting ideals. The dying of authentic, old fashioned pleasures in favor of the loud and gawdy. It's an affectionate plea for a return to the ideal cinema was founded upon. More than that, it's film of unparalleled delight and spirit.

4. "Man with a Movie Camera" (1929)
Directed by Dziga Vertov

The only film on this list without sound, story, or narration of any kind helping it along. It's a representation of visuals, with no recurring characters, and in fact representing in shifting and astounding perspectives, the life of a city. This is filmmaking at its most basic, quite unexpectedly also at its most profoundly impressionistic. Pick your accompaniment wisely, for this is a shifting coin, forever changing, but never unimaginatively.

3. "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Monkeys, space, and robots, and yet there's no better diagnosis of exactly what it is to be human, and where we go from here. But hey, even that's under-serving this piece of damn near unparalleled cinematic brilliance. Kubrick deals with some weighty ideas with full passion and respect for every one of them. You can't help but be utterly gobsmacked, amazed, shattered, and rendered always speechless by this film. Don't doubt it, because it did happen.

2. "Vertigo" (1958)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

This feels so close to being rendered a cliche, and too bad because I was stunned, shocked, and thinking thoroughly of this film well in advance of Sight & Sound's announcement of it as champion. It sparks such powerful and unexpected tension on the ideas of identity, love, and idealistic beauty, and forever has you questioning all of it. Even then unthinkable ending raises controversial talking points beyond "Is it a dream" simplicity. Call me a freeloader, but this is a winner I can believe in.

1. "Rashomon" (1950)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Action, mystery, romance, ghosts... and it's all lies. Or most of it's lies. Or none of it's lies. Indeed, I have only seen this one film of Kurosawa's, but man does he set a precedent of allowing you to question the morality of all involved. None of its pieces are unnecessary, every moment drawing you further into the dilemma. It's an insane piece of cinema, unlike anything you're ever likely to experience. For anyone questioning their faith in cinema, try this on. You may be surprised. Or you may not care. But it did more than simply work for me.

  • The only two recurring directors are Stanley Kubrick (with 4) and Claire Denis (with 3).
  • The two recurring decade is the 70s (with 5).
  • 4 films are silent, with the only possible exception being "The Illusionist".
  • 5 films on this list come from 3 female directors. 
  • The oldest film is from 1925 ("Battleship Potemkin").
  • The youngest film is from September, 2011 ("Drive").


1 comment:

  1. And this looks like a very personal list, coming from you only. What a brilliant list u compiled. I have seen 14 films out of your 25. Rashomon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Raging Bull, Annie Hall, The Godfather and A Clockwork Orange are the movies i have seen a lot of times and think they are timely masterpieces. Rather surprised you included many new movies too, The Illusionist is such a great choice by the way. Man with a Movie Camera and Battleship Potemkin i really want to watch them.

    Vertigo ..... well i should seriously watch it again. Again, excellent choices, you are my most favorite blogger and movies buff (you know it). cheers!